Saturday, August 13, 2011
Legacy of a society that believes in nothing
For many years now British schoolkids have been told by their Leftist teachers that "There is no such thing as right and wrong". We should not be surprised that some of the kids now believe that
Raw with grief, in a voice steady but tight with emotion, his appeal for calm on Wednesday was a beacon of hope amid the tumult and carnage of a horribly dark week for Britain.
Hours before he spoke, Tariq Jahan had lost his 21-year-old son Haroon, murdered in the Winson Green area of Birmingham by [black] thugs who drove at him in their car in what appears to have been a racist attack.
No one could be more aware of the simmering racial tensions between Asians in his neighbourhood and those of Caribbean ancestry.
Yet Mr Jahan had the dignity, the compassion and the common sense to demand an end to the violence that had shattered his life. ‘Blacks, Asians, whites — we all live in the same community,’ he said. ‘Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home — please.’
There was no mention of feral rats or of the sickness in our society. There were no calls for revenge. If he had screamed for retribution, if he had chosen the emotional occasion of his son’s death to denounce whole swathes of the community, there could easily have been an unspeakable outbreak of racial violence.
Instead, Mr Jahan made an open and straightforward declaration of his faith. ‘I’m a Muslim. I believe in divine fate and destiny, and it was his destiny and his fate, and now he’s gone,’ he said. ‘And may Allah forgive him and bless him.’
It was a solemn, peaceful message that will make everyone who stereotypes Muslims as terrorists and fanatics feel ashamed of themselves. Tariq Jahan is a deeply impressive man, and like the great majority of Muslims in this country, he is hard-working, clean-living, guided in his conduct by religious belief, and unshakeable in his devotion to the ideal of family life.
In London at the height of the riots, we saw another clear expression of faith when more than 700 Sikhs lined up to defend their temples from potential arsonists in the suburb of Southall to the west of the capital. The Sikhs have a proud tradition of valuing each human being, male and female, as equal in God’s eyes. Theirs is a religion in which family is paramount.
We do not know the size of the bank balance of those Sikhs, any more than we know how wealthy are the Muslims of Winson Green. From looking at the streets and houses where they live, and the shops where they buy their food, it is safe to assume that they are not rich.
It is probable, too, that their teenagers would like to have large-screen televisions and fashionable trainers and BlackBerries.
But you can pretty well guarantee they would not have been among the looters. Instilled into them would have been the importance of working hard for money to buy these things, rather than hurling a brick through a shop window to help themselves.
Paramount among their moral values would be concern for others, a sense of altruism that could not be more different from the sense of self-entitlement that been so grotesquely on display this week. The reason for this is that they are from religious families.
All the main religions are unshakeable when it comes to self-evident truths about right and wrong; about stealing, harming others, coveting goods, instant gratification and so on.
‘Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more seriously reflection concentrates upon them: the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me’. So wrote the greatest philosopher of the 18th-century, Immanuel Kant, in 1788 in his work of moral philosophy, the Critique of Practical Reason.
It was in 1991 — and the memory is still vivid — that I interviewed Immanuel Jakobovits on his retirement as Chief Rabbi in Britain, and he told me that it was on the basis of Kant’s quotation that his father had named him Immanuel.
During that interview, Rabbi Jakobovits — who died in Israel in 1999 and was said to have been Margaret Thatcher’s favourite clergyman — stressed the absolute centrality of family life to our learning the paths of virtue.
His parting message as he retired, not only to the Jewish community but also to the British people, was that marriage and family life need to be learned; that if necessary we should have classes for young people, teaching them the importance of family life, of how to bring up children, how to discipline them kindly but firmly, and how to instil the sense of that moral law within.
Without that sense, human life falls into absolute chaos, anarchy, and unpleasantness. Yet in our secular age — an age in which, tragically, the Church of England appears to do little more than wring its hands as congregation numbers plummet — this moral bedrock is being steadily eroded.
Today, we live in a society where religion is something for which apologies must be made.
A Christian woman working for British Airways who wears a cross round her neck is asked to remove it for fear of offending other people. A nurse who prays with a patient in hospital is committing an almost criminal act. Catholic adoption agencies which disapprove of gay adoptive parents on religious grounds have their licences taken away.
And all the while, our governing classes and academics and teachers chip away at the fundamental truths of the great religions — truths that have stood the test of time for thousands of years — in their arrogant certainty that there are no moral absolutes and that the human race can make up the rules as it goes along.
At the nuttier fringes of the chattering classes there are those, like the geneticist Richard Dawkins and the journalist Christopher Hitchens, who actually believe that religion is a mental poison responsible for all the evils in the world.
The misguided and vacuous thinking of these so-called intellectuals is compounded by a sordid celebrity-culture which holds up role models who should be despised rather than admired.
Amy Winehouse, a pathetic drug-infused alcoholic girl of very modest talent, is held up as great diva; and when she died, her house was surrounded by fans, laying empty vodka bottles as a ‘tribute’.
Jade Goody, the foul-mouthed, racist daughter of a pimp and drug-pusher who died of a heroin overdose in the lavatory of a Kentucky Fried Chicken, appears on Big Brother and becomes a heroine despite — or because of — her ignorance and tendency to strip off in front of the cameras.
Fornicating footballers, who swagger through public lives dripping with gold and jewellery, parading the vulgar acquisitions of their vast wealth — whether it is fleets of fast cars or call girls, are venerated by generations who have never so much as heard of the very real heroes of history.
In the absence of a moral law, we see a decline in standards in all walks of life. Bankers continue to fill their boots even after they have brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy; politicians fiddle expenses and see no reason to resign when they have committed wrongdoings; town hall fat cats pay themselves ever greater salaries as Britain slips further into debt.
By contrast, every day, Muslim men like Tariq Jahan go to the mosque and fall prostrate before the mystery which Immanuel Kant knew lay at the heart of existence.
The Sikhs likewise build temples because they feel awe at the starry heavens above them and the moral laws within their hearts — laws which all men, women and children can recognise when they reflect deeply and in silence.
The catalogue of the great men and women in the past hundred or so years — from Leo Tolstoy in Russia, to Mahatma Gandhi in India, from the Lutheran student Sophie Scholl executed by guillotine aged 22 for her part in a resistance movement to Hitler, to Archbishop Tutu presiding over the peaceful Truth and Reconciliation committees in South Africa — has been the same.
All these people have held fast to values which they believed ultimately to be eternal and God-given.
Go back 100 years to Winson Green, to Southall, and to Wolverhampton, and to all the other scenes of urban violence scarred by horror in the last week.
The years before and after World War I were marked, for the people who lived in these places, by very great economic hardship. The poverty endured by the inhabitants of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham and the poor parts of London led to great programmes of political and social reform.
But the crime rate among the people themselves was much, much lower than it is today. All sorts of reasons have been adduced for this. But there is surely a very simple one that towers over all the others. In each of these places, there were chapels, often Methodist, which kept alive the human capacity for awe at the starry heavens above and the moral law within.
Not everyone attended the services, though thousands did. Nearly everyone, however, in these communities, whether church or chapel, subscribed to the idea that Good and Evil are given things, not human inventions.
The Jewish religion of Lord Jakobovits told the story of the Law of God being written in stone on the mountain-side of Sinai, and delivered to Moses. Some people choose to believe this happened literally as an historical event.
In a memorable episode of Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, over 20 years ago, historian David Starkey (an atheist) ribbed Rabbi Hugo Gryn about this. The Rabbi took the teasing in good part of course, but as someone who as a child had been interned in Auschwitz, he knew what a society could be like if it embraced the motto of Milton’s Satan, ‘Evil be thou my Good’.
He knew that whatever the historical truth about the Sinai story in the Book of Exodus, there was an absolute truth in the words Thou Shalt Do No Murder, Thou Shall Not Steal, and Honour thy Father and thy Mother. He’d lived in a country ruled over by a satanic Nazi dictator who thought you could disregard moral truth.
I suspect that when time passes and we look back on this week, it is the religious sincerity of Tariq Jahan that we shall remember. All of us — Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, Christians — have a rich religious inheritance.
At the core of this inheritance is a sense of right and wrong. And in all these religions, the school where we learn of right and wrong is the family. Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus have all, very noticeably, retained this twin strand of family structure and ethical teaching.
Faith in Christianity itself began to unravel long ago, and the majority of those whose forebears were Christian are now completely secular. They would not even recognise simple Bible stories.
The events of the past week have shown the enormous value of a living religious faith.
Not only was Tariq Jahan more impressive than any of the commentators or politicians who spouted on the airwaves this week. He was more human.
By his religious response to his son’s death, he humanised not only the dreadful and immediate tragedy. He showed us that without a religion we are all less than human.
Historian Starkey says: Enoch Powell was right with infamous 'rivers of blood' speech
"As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see 'the River Tiber foaming with much blood" -- E. Powell, 1968
Historian David Starkey sparked outrage last night by claiming that Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech had been right and blaming ‘black culture’ for the riots. He said white youths had adopted a black culture which promoted the violence and looting.
Mr Starkey claimed Powell’s infamous 1968 speech had been right in one sense, but it wasn’t inter-communal violence that was the problem.
‘The substantial section of the chavs have become black, the whites have become black,’ he told Newsnight on BBC 2. ‘A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become fashion, and the black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together. 'This language is wholly false. It is a Jamaican patois that has intruded in England, which is why so many of us have this sense that we are literally living in a foreign country. ‘It is about black culture, that is the enormously important thing, it is not skin colour, it is culture.’
When challenged by fellow guest Dreda Say Mitchell, a black author and broadcaster, Mr Starkey defended his comments by saying: ‘At these times we need plain speaking.’
Within minutes of the broadcast, Twitter was flooded with comments accusing the historian of blatant racism. One tweet said: ‘“The problem is that the whites have become black”, David Starkey tells #newsnight – close to inciting racial hatred. Awful!’
Another commented sarcastically: ‘I don’t hate David Starkey, some of my best friends are racist historians.’ A third added: ‘This week has brought the boggle eyed racist nut in certain people spluttering out.’
Powell fuelled controversy as a Tory MP in 1968 when he warned about apocalyptic consequences if immigration was allowed to rise unchecked. Although the phrase ‘rivers of blood’ does not appear in the speech, it does include the line, ‘As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood’.
Acid-tongued Mr Starkey has been dubbed the ‘rudest man in Britain’. He once described the Queen as a housewife who ‘lacks a serious education’ and called Scotland, Wales and Ireland ‘feeble little countries’.
Starkey might have noted that the initial riots in London seem to have been almost entirely by blacks
The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom
David Cameron, Ed Miliband and the entire British political class came together yesterday to denounce the rioters. They were of course right to say that the actions of these looters, arsonists and muggers were abhorrent and criminal, and that the police should be given more support.
But there was also something very phony and hypocritical about all the shock and outrage expressed in parliament. MPs spoke about the week’s dreadful events as if they were nothing to do with them.
I cannot accept that this is the case. Indeed, I believe that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society. The last two decades have seen a terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite. It has become acceptable for our politicians to lie and to cheat. An almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up.
It is not just the feral youth of Tottenham who have forgotten they have duties as well as rights. So have the feral rich of Chelsea and Kensington. A few years ago, my wife and I went to a dinner party in a large house in west London. A security guard prowled along the street outside, and there was much talk of the “north-south divide”, which I took literally for a while until I realised that my hosts were facetiously referring to the difference between those who lived north and south of Kensington High Street.
Most of the people in this very expensive street were every bit as deracinated and cut off from the rest of Britain as the young, unemployed men and women who have caused such terrible damage over the last few days. For them, the repellent Financial Times magazine How to Spend It is a bible. I’d guess that few of them bother to pay British tax if they can avoid it, and that fewer still feel the sense of obligation to society that only a few decades ago came naturally to the wealthy and better off.
Yet we celebrate people who live empty lives like this. A few weeks ago, I noticed an item in a newspaper saying that the business tycoon Sir Richard Branson was thinking of moving his headquarters to Switzerland. This move was represented as a potential blow to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, because it meant less tax revenue.
I couldn’t help thinking that in a sane and decent world such a move would be a blow to Sir Richard, not the Chancellor. People would note that a prominent and wealthy businessman was avoiding British tax and think less of him. Instead, he has a knighthood and is widely feted. The same is true of the brilliant retailer Sir Philip Green. Sir Philip’s businesses could never survive but for Britain’s famous social and political stability, our transport system to shift his goods and our schools to educate his workers.
Yet Sir Philip, who a few years ago sent an extraordinary £1 billion dividend offshore, seems to have little intention of paying for much of this. Why does nobody get angry or hold him culpable? I know that he employs expensive tax lawyers and that everything he does is legal, but he surely faces ethical and moral questions just as much as does a young thug who breaks into one of Sir Philip’s shops and steals from it?
Our politicians – standing sanctimoniously on their hind legs in the Commons yesterday – are just as bad. They have shown themselves prepared to ignore common decency and, in some cases, to break the law. David Cameron is happy to have some of the worst offenders in his Cabinet. Take the example of Francis Maude, who is charged with tackling public sector waste – which trade unions say is a euphemism for waging war on low‑paid workers. Yet Mr Maude made tens of thousands of pounds by breaching the spirit, though not the law, surrounding MPs’ allowances.
A great deal has been made over the past few days of the greed of the rioters for consumer goods, not least by Rotherham MP Denis MacShane who accurately remarked, “What the looters wanted was for a few minutes to enter the world of Sloane Street consumption.” This from a man who notoriously claimed £5,900 for eight laptops. Of course, as an MP he obtained these laptops legally through his expenses.
Yesterday, the veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman asked the Prime Minister to consider how these rioters can be “reclaimed” by society. Yes, this is indeed the same Gerald Kaufman who submitted a claim for three months’ expenses totalling £14,301.60, which included £8,865 for a Bang & Olufsen television.
Or take the Salford MP Hazel Blears, who has been loudly calling for draconian action against the looters. I find it very hard to make any kind of ethical distinction between Blears’s expense cheating and tax avoidance, and the straight robbery carried out by the looters.
The Prime Minister showed no sign that he understood that something stank about yesterday’s Commons debate. He spoke of morality, but only as something which applies to the very poor: “We will restore a stronger sense of morality and responsibility – in every town, in every street and in every estate.” He appeared not to grasp that this should apply to the rich and powerful as well.
The tragic truth is that Mr Cameron is himself guilty of failing this test. It is scarcely six weeks since he jauntily turned up at the News International summer party, even though the media group was at the time subject to not one but two police investigations. Even more notoriously, he awarded a senior Downing Street job to the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, even though he knew at the time that Coulson had resigned after criminal acts were committed under his editorship. The Prime Minister excused his wretched judgment by proclaiming that “everybody deserves a second chance”. It was very telling yesterday that he did not talk of second chances as he pledged exemplary punishment for the rioters and looters.
These double standards from Downing Street are symptomatic of widespread double standards at the very top of our society. It should be stressed that most people (including, I know, Telegraph readers) continue to believe in honesty, decency, hard work, and putting back into society at least as much as they take out.
But there are those who do not. Certainly, the so-called feral youth seem oblivious to decency and morality. But so are the venal rich and powerful – too many of our bankers, footballers, wealthy businessmen and politicians.
Of course, most of them are smart and wealthy enough to make sure that they obey the law. That cannot be said of the sad young men and women, without hope or aspiration, who have caused such mayhem and chaos over the past few days. But the rioters have this defence: they are just following the example set by senior and respected figures in society. Let’s bear in mind that many of the youths in our inner cities have never been trained in decent values. All they have ever known is barbarism. Our politicians and bankers, in sharp contrast, tend to have been to good schools and universities and to have been given every opportunity in life.
Something has gone horribly wrong in Britain. If we are ever to confront the problems which have been exposed in the past week, it is essential to bear in mind that they do not only exist in inner-city housing estates.
The culture of greed and impunity we are witnessing on our TV screens stretches right up into corporate boardrooms and the Cabinet. It embraces the police and large parts of our media. It is not just its damaged youth, but Britain itself that needs a moral reformation.
The Fire This Time
"You've damaged your own race," said Mayor Michael Nutter to the black youths of Philadelphia whose flash mobs have been beating and robbing shoppers in the fashionable district of downtown.
"Take those God-darn hoodies down," the mayor went on in his blistering lecture. "Pull your pants up and buy a belt, 'cause no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt."
And the mayor had some advice for teenagers looking for work. "You walk into somebody's office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back and your shoes untied and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arms and on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won't hire you?" "They don't hire you 'cause you look like you're crazy."
Nutter is African-American and the first leader to speak out about the racial character of the flash mobs attacking people in one American city after another. And where are our other leaders?
At the Iowa State Fair last August, black thugs beat a white man so savagely he was hospitalized. Police only began to look into the possibility of a racial attack and hate crime after fair-goers said the thugs were calling it "Beat Whitey Night."
After Memorial Day, Chicago cops had to close a beach when a flash mob formed, attacked people and knocked cyclists off bikes.
In Miami Beach, there were beatings and shootings that same weekend. In D.C., flash mobs of black youths have turned up a half-dozen times in stores to loot clothes and merchandise and flee.
The media almost never identify the race of the thugs. Their reticence would disappear were a white mob in some Southern city to be caught beating up on black shoppers at a mall.
But the flash mob scourge hitting U.S. cities has been eclipsed by the pillaging and burning of London and other British cities in the worst violence visited on that nation and its capital since Goering's Luftwaffe executed the "Blitz."
Thousands of hoodlums, thugs and criminals have firebombed buildings, looted stores and stripped, beaten and robbed people for no reason other than that they were white.
Overwhelmed cops virtually surrendered the city for three days. By the fourth night, the rampage had taken on a multiethnic caste as Asians and white trash appeared to join in the festival of criminality.
Asian and black store owners, too, are victims. In Birmingham, three Pakistani men defending their neighborhood were run over and killed by a truck reportedly driven by a black rioter.
In a country-and-gospel tune recalled often in the '60s, the one that gave James Baldwin the title of his polemic, this couplet appears:
God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water, the fire next time
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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