I recall those days before Allah blessed me with the guidance of Islam how as a teenager perched in the ivory tower of one of Britain's top public schools I pondered on the lessons of history. I wondered as an Englishman abroad (my father was working in Egypt) why and how we as a nation had fallen so low. It was with a swelling of the chest and a head held high that I read about those days gone by when the British Navy bombarded a whole city due to the imprisonment of a single British citizen! The stirring words of the hymn "Jerusalem, in England's green and pleasant lads" would cause tears to well up in my eyes and make my hairs stand on end with patriotic fervor. Now what had we become? The last vestiges of our Empire were a couple Islands with more sheep than people and Hong Kong, due to be humiliatingly handed over to the Chinese in 1999. How far we had fallen! And why?
We still remember Empire, wistfully, idyllically, mostly by Conservatives, as days of our glory and greatness. I was born into Empire, in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, my father a District Officer, his father a high court judge in Bombay. Still, when he talks about those days he does so with pride and sense of real achievement that was Pax Britannia. "I believe in Empire", he recently told me, and although it was 1976 in our "history" Lessons we were still fed stories of Empire. We recalled vividly the terrors of the black hole of Calcutta, perhaps an Empire equivalent of 9/11, where women and children crowded together, died and trampled each other from crazed thirst and gasping for air from a single small cell window. I felt as if it was my self and my mother in there! This alone was sufficient cause to justify to Clive's conquest of India and for whatever revenge we enacted on the "mutinous" Indians (albeit 100 years later!). Of course the injustices and maltreatment of the Indians was never an issue, and the fact the bullet cartridges that had to bitten of before being put in the Sepoy's new Enfield rifle were covered in pigs fat, haram of course to both Muslims and I presume Hindus, was dismissed as trouble making rumors. How ready we are to believe our own propaganda! What wonders words can work, what magic of mental manipulation.
Let's take "Indian mutiny" for example. Mutiny implies an criminal rebellion by a lawfully enlisted crew. So the perfectly legitimate grievances of an occupied people, who's rebellion against tyranny is labeled mutiny, instills in the mind of the white British reader that the Indians were/are part of the "crew", and their uprising a criminal act punishable by key hauling or something equivalent, like being strapped to the ends of cannons and then being blown apart while! And so to our perceptions of the Asian Indian. Servants, not always willing, and always potentially cruel and rebellious.
For all the song and dance about a utopic multicultural, pluralistic meritocratic society, that without doubt many do genuinely believe, the middle class white Englishman, the ruling elite and their working class tribesmen (nationalism being nothing more than tribalism on a grand scale), have a deep racist, supremacists, xenophobic streak. They feel essentially ill at ease with the sight of vocal, empowered and self assured Asians, because in their mind the Indian is still "the ruled", inferior, suitable for factory work and quiet subservience. By and large the vast majority of the first generation Muslim immigrants to this country played that role and fitted that image admirably. Despite the cries of "Paki" that most Asians endured and still do, there was a comfortable feeling that these people really knew their place. Then the next generation came, brought up and educated here. Many simply embraced the solipsist, relativist materialistic culture but some of them learnt about critical thinking, challenging any cringing subservience to human authority and found a voice in the kernels of truth that is Islam mixed with the outer shells of the traditions of their ancestors.
This new voice has become a source of discomfort for many: the ruling, essentially white, elite because it challenges their indulgent dreams of supposed superiority over a seranvtile peoples. So now the whole "multicultural experiment" is called in to question! The Muslim parents are uneasy because their children are challenging their cultural interpretations, valid enough perhaps in the homeland, but almost totally misplaced here. The government plays on this insecurity, warns these already uncomfortable parents of their children's "radicalization." The irony is of course, that while all this "radicalization" and "islamicisation" is being touted as "un-British" (whatever that is) and against "our values" (whatever they are), these outspoken, confident youth are a by product of some of the positive aspects of Western culture as much as they are a reaction against its negative side.
Back then to the fall of Empire!
Why do Empires fall? Two Empires who's history I was familiar with as a school boy were the Greek and Roman. The Roman empire of course being the true model on which many European kings and emperors have tried to build. The German "Kaiser", the Russian "Tsar" are versions of the word Cesar. It was in the decline and fall of the Roman Empire that I took instruction, and I could see its model in Britain around me. The answer, it seemed, was clear. Indulgence in worldly pursuits, luxury living, obsession with entertainment (bread and circuses) and immorality. With this inevitably comes some degree of cupidity, and with that a lack of commitment to the moral paradigms that help keep society civil. This leads to societies inward collapse. The Armies or legions are similarly effected. Although the matter of empire has made these armies technologically superior and perhaps also masters of strategy the core of army is replaced by immigrants into the empire, not those from within, the rigors and dangers of military life being unbearable except for a few, who make up by and large the officer corps. Such armies cannot for long withstand the onslaughts of hungrier, more vigorous and more morally disciplined competitors.
We can add to this another factor. The hedonistic life style is resource intense, and resources are inevitably limited. These Empires simply cannot sustain themselves. The Roman empire virtually wiped out the wildlife of North Africa in its quest for more and more spectacular and bloody spectacles that consumed more and more recourses. Those intoxicated with the world don't care any longer what means and ways they use to procure their drug. So with this hedonism and cupidity comes corruption, and with corruption injustice, and with injustice tyranny. People can with stand many hardships patiently but they cannot endure injustice for long. This is why no nation can stand on injustice. It is linked, all of it, injustice, cupidity, hedonism and materialism.
All of this, every aspect of it, has its parallel in the West today. The very things that caused the decline of Rome was all around for me to see in Britain today. Bread and circuses, or Football and Burgers!
As for the rise of the radicals, as enamored as I am with the pluralistic utopia the lessons of history seem to tell us that in the end the ones who survive and succeed are those who struggle and strive, not those who acquiesce to complacent assimilation.