Jim Bennett has a good piece on assimilation of immigrants in the USA, which gives some idea of how hard this was to do in the past, and what it will take the UK to do the same thing. The fact that the 7/7 suicide bombers were home-grown came as a shock to many in the UK. This shock has set in motion a conversation, which may eventually be fruitful, to try to define what it is that immigrants to the UK should be trying to assimilate to. In other words, before you can say to someone, “if you want to come here, you have to decide to become one of us”, you need to answer the question for yourselves: “who are we?” This is a question many people don’t want to engage with. It leads to further questions, “why are we who we are?” and “is what we are good? Is it worth defending? Worth taking risks for? Worth dying to defend?” One early cut at defining a set of “core values” for Britain was this piece. It is a good list.
Creating a consensus on anything like this is very difficult, especially these days, either in UK, or the USA, and giving affirmative answers to these questions is even harder. The “commanding heights” are held by a news media, an entertainment industry and an academic community which convey a message of disdain for the history of these countries, which see little of value in their past or present, and which are actively opposed to the idea of assimilation.
If you teach generations of people nothing but the crimes of their ancestors and the corruption of their existing institutions, which is an incomplete and hence false depiction, they are unlikely to have the cohesion and confidence needed to insist that immigrants adopt certain base-line values and practices. In ordinary times this deficiency can be “kicked down the road”, since it may not seem urgent. However, it turns out to be a structural weakness when mortal threats arise.
This lack of cultural confidence become apparent when the UK, and to a lesser extent the USA, were faced by the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism. The Islamic radical looks around him in a country like England and sees people who do not respect their own way of life and are apologetic about it. The Islamic radical correctly senses weakness and has contempt for people who do not respect their own country, civilization or way of life. He sees the firmness of his own will and faith, and he discounts his material disadvantages, which he is not necessarily wrong to do. A small number of people with absolute conviction and willing to risk all for a cause can work seeming miracles. Mohammad’s followers came out of nowhere and overran the world, and their descendants never forget it. Closer to our own time, they recall that a superpower invaded Afghanistan, but that mujahideen from around the Muslim Umma rallied to its defense, and the Soviet Union is no more. The soft, comfort-seeking West seems like a much easier target. And like the Soviet Union, it no longer believes in the principles that supposedly animate it. To the outside observer looking at our depraved entertainment products and listening to the self-loathing on the mainstream news, the West must seem to be an animated corpse that will crumble into a putrescent heap if it is struck hard enough.
Weakness in any sphere invites attack, and the realm of cultural confidence and identity is no exception. Morale is more important than arms, and a country that starts out believing it does not really deserve to survive is already beaten. That may be overstating the case for the UK in 2005. However, a country that tries to wage a struggle where many of its most powerful and influential people believe that the moral right resides with their enemies is far weaker than it will appear if you try to add up the tangible assets each side brings to the fray.
Fortunately, the academic and educational and media communities, while still very powerful, are weakening. They are being stripped of their quasi-monopoly positions by advancing technology. A more complete, more affirmative and truer version of Anglo-American freedom can be formulated and disseminated via the new media, the home-schooling movement, and other means. The United States and the rest of the Anglosphere are magnets for immigrants. These people have experienced alternative arrangements up-close. They are likely to see and understand what is good about these communities. All we need to do is regain this understanding ourselves, and make it available for those who want to learn. This will be a difficult challenge in the years ahead. I anticipate that it will be successful, but nothing is inevitable.
Update: See Helen Szamuelly’s post from the EU Referendum blog. She paints a dire picture of how bad things have gotten in the UK. (You can only start rebuilding from where you are, says I.)
Update II: “If we lose faith in our values, we will lose the war on terrorism.” Michael Barone quotes the President of the Italian Senate, making a similar point.