Saturday 21 November 2015

The glue that holds us together

Scottish politics appears trivial to me now. I find myself uninterested. Perhaps I will get my interest back. Ordinary life, after all, goes on and must go on. But the events of the past week have shaken me. Some people have responded with the usual clichés and the usual complacency. Some have been determined not to do anything, not to overreact. Some have been more concerned about demonstrating how nice and kind they are. I’m uninterested in all those things. I’m interested in understanding the problem and then finding a solution.

It is purely a matter of chance, or else the excellence of our security services, that it wasn’t a British city that was attacked last week. We have been attacked before, it is highly likely that we will be attacked again. Such an attack will probably happen in one of the big English cities, but it could equally well happen in Glasgow or even Aberdeen. Who can tell? If the French president says that his country is at war, then realistically so are we. We must respond accordingly.

Morally I believe we have a duty to fight evil. Even if our country had not been threatened by Germany in 1939 at some point we would have had a duty to fight against people who were acting barbarously towards others. It is not always practically possible to overcome regimes which are acting in ways that are monstrous. But where we can, we have a duty to do so. War can be just and pacifism can be a means by which evil is allowed to flourish.

The West has made a series of strategic blunders in the Middle East over the past 20-30 years. With hindsight secular dictatorship was preferable to religious extremism. It was a mistake to support the removal of Gaddafi, Mubarak, Assad and in the end it was a mistake to remove Saddam Hussein. But were not all these dictators evil? No doubt they were, but what followed was much worse. If you don’t believe me, you haven’t been following the news recently.

So should we have left the whole region alone? It would indeed be better to leave the whole region alone, than to make it worse. But unfortunately the region will not leave us alone. Attacks on our cities will not suddenly cease if we retreat, rather they will get worse. They are getting worse. Who knows how many will be killed next time? Five hundred, a thousand? If you are against action, at what point do you act?

The mistake that the West made in removing dictators was not so much the removal of the dictators, but the failure to put anything in its place. Imagine if after defeating Germany and Japan in 1945 we had simply left them to get on with it. Would they now be the peaceful, prosperous societies we see today? These countries are as they are because we conquered them and then ruled them for years afterwards. We turned them into democrats. If we are to defeat evil in the Middle East we must do likewise. If we are not to finish the job, it would be better not to start at all.

How is it that we could defeat Germany and Japan in 1945 and turn them into model countries, yet we have a record of failure in the Middle East? The answer is obvious. We don’t fight as we did in 1945. The media watches every step we make, rebukes us whenever we make a mistake and treats the whole event as something that they have to watch impartially. Meanwhile our armed forces play with a rule book that guarantees defeat while the enemy plays to no rules at all. We defeated formidable opponents like Germany and Japan only because we could do whatever was necessary to win. We realised it was a struggle for survival and fought accordingly. No less is required this time. Not least it would be kinder to our opponents. If we had fought a little more seriously in Iraq last time round and if we had ruled with a little more authority, we might not be faced with a failed state today.

If there is the will, we can defeat evil in the Middle East relatively easily. Our opponents are not nearly as formidable as the ones we faced in 1939. But we need to put aside differences with countries like Russia just like we did in 1941. Putting aside those differences may also help solve conflicts elsewhere such as in Ukraine. Above all we must recognise that bombing alone will not succeed.  A country cannot be occupied with bombers.

The people who threaten us are in Syria and Iraq, but they are not only there. Unfortunately we have to recognise that some of them live in our own country. Some of them sympathise with our enemies. We don’t know who they are and we have no means of recognising them. But and this is very important, I would like to emphasise that our enemies are not immigrants and they are not Muslims.

Only a small proportion of Muslims in the modern world sympathise wish ISIS or wish to fight a Jihad against the West. I don’t know how large this proportion is. The faith of most Muslims in Britain is as unconnected with Jihad as my Christianity is unconnected with the Spanish Inquisition. I do not deny that that burning heretics was something that Christians did, not least because they themselves believed themselves to be Christians. But it has nothing to do with my faith. It was part of Christianity at one time in history to act cruelly, but it is not at all how I understand Christianity.

Faith is a precious thing to the person who has it. It would have been awful for me to believe what I do about Christianity and see others using Christianity to be cruel. Well then I can sympathise with devout Muslims when they see their religion misused. This misuse is not their fault and no more touches them than if I had been a Christian in Spain and had disagreed with burning those who were called heretics.

Let us only fight those who are our enemies, let us not criticise those who are our friends and fellow countrymen. Some people suggest that we are up against a medieval interpretation of Islam. On the contrary, I would far rather live in medieval Baghdad than medieval Edinburgh. In the Middle Ages Baghdad would have been relatively tolerant. It would have been clean, cultured and safe. The scholarship, the art and the culture there would have been far superior to here. The problem is not a medieval interpretation so much as a modern fanaticism.

The fanatics of the Spanish Inquisition were a threat to ordinary decent Christians in Spain. In the same way modern Jihadis are a threat to ordinary decent Muslims in Britain. We can all equally be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The way to defeat our common enemy is to come together. Just as in World War II we found a unity and a morale that helped us defeat evil, so too now we must unite rather than divide.

I strongly suspect that British Muslims are, at least in part, responsible for foiling many attacks that might have taken place in the past years. They will, no doubt, continue to do so. Our safety in the UK depends on everyone feeling equally a part of our country. It is perfectly possible to have more than one identity. Someone can be proud of the country where their ancestors came from and equally proud of the country where they are now.  Someone can be Jewish and British, a Hindu and British and Muslim and British.

The great thing about the British identity is that it is open to everyone. I know people whose grandparents came from Scotland who still think of themselves as Scots though they were born and brought up in England and they speak with an English accent. Likewise I know people who have lived in Scotland all their lives who are continually reminded that they are not Scots because they lack a Scottish accent. It is sometimes possible to be accepted as Scot by committing oneself to Scottish nationalism, but for the most part a Scottish identity depends on where you are born and where your parents came from.  I wish that this were not so, but it is.

My husband is in the process of obtaining a British passport. When he does so, he will be a British Russian. That will be the only identity open to him. He lacks Scottish vowels. The prefix British unites everyone who lives in the UK in a similar way that people in the United States can call themselves Italian Americans, or African Americans. This common identity is vital if a country is to remain united.

But here we have a problem. We are rightly encouraging people whose ancestors came from elsewhere to think of themselves as Brits. We want them to share this identity with all of us and to realise that we are all in this together. But at the same time far too many British citizens deny the one thing that unites us all. In the past twenty or more years Britain has become more and more divided. Too many people think of themselves as English only, or Welsh only. Too many deny that they are British. But it is only because we are both British that I have a common identity with an Indian Sikh in London or a Pakistani Muslim in Birmingham. If I deny this Britishness, what have I in common with them other than a shared humanity?

We must stop squabbling amongst ourselves. We face a struggle that may be as dangerous as the Second World War, which may be as long as the Cold War.  We must unite in our United Kingdom. Above all we must not divide in the face of our common enemy. We live in a multi-cultural Britain, where we are all equally Brits. If you can’t quite bear living in the same country as English people, Welsh people and Northern Irish people, how do you suppose you will be able to bear living in a country with people from further afield? If you hate Brits and Britishness, you hate an awful lot of of your fellow citizens. You hate the one identity that ought to join you with them.   
Our common citizenship, our Britishness is the glue that holds us together. It will enable us to defeat our present foe just as we have defeated all those that have come before. Don’t make us come unstuck. We need everyone together in this fight.