Hugh Baker on multicultural mayhem

I remember Birmingham as it was, and I prefer Birmingham as it is now. As it was, it was the city of a thousand dying trades: slowly decaying factories, large and small, inexorably descending into scrap yards and parking lots. The city is successfully reinventing itself: gleaming new faces of Mammon such as the Bull Ring Temple of Consumerism are bringing money, jobs and pizzazz into Birmingham’s heart. Among the well-mannered modern buildings that now brighten up Broad Street stands the new Repertory Theatre where (when one’s wife decides she’d like a cultural night out) I’ve spent an enjoyable evening or two.

Here, in the run up to the Christmas season, we saw a strange sight: the bearded, turbaned gentlemen who, in my youth, used to sell soap in the Black Country from door to door had to be restrained by a hefty cordon of constabulary from doing the place over. Even the ‘Daily Torygraph’ disapproved of this rallying aux barricades. Their editorial the day after declared,

‘Instead of shoring up the legal ramparts of our hard-won liberties against a lethal new intolerance, the Establishment hoists the white flag.’

Most of us, of course, are dependent on the media for our information about the content, and offensiveness or otherwise, of what is shown on stage or screen. Two days after the riot, Suman Bhuchar wrote to the ‘Telegraph’ from the advantageous position of actually having seen the play. He (she?) says they are involved in promoting Asian drama, so I assume they know their onions when stating

‘Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, the playwright…reveres…the Sikh religion’ and ‘…there is an important distinction – made clear by the set design at the Birmingham Rep – between the prayer space and the non-sacred community space. The rape and revelations of homosexuality occur in the office of the chairman.’ Two other letters, for different reasons, supported the ‘Telegraph’s’ disquiet. If they did receive any missives supporting the turbaned terrorists, they didn’t publish them. One suspects that the Tory broadsheet, sensing that the Government were truckling to the Asian vote in hopes of holding on to their Brum marginal Constituencies, had its own agenda for wanting to uphold free speech.

I suppose I ought to be predisposed to uphold free speech also, and yet….I find myself experiencing just a scintilla of fellow feeling with the people who’d knocked some of the Rep’s lights out. Why?

When the Empire was turned into the Commonwealth, no one gave any thought to the travelling liberties granted to some of our former Imperial subjects: no one thought they would come in any numbers. When they did, and those living in the run down urban areas they moved into objected, there was incomprehension in ruling circles. ‘There’s only Enoch understands’ my Auntie Phyllis would say to Auntie Ethel over a milk stout in the ‘Old Horns’ at Queslett. Still, no one imagined religion as such would cause any trouble. They were different, that was all: once they’d settled down and become British, you wouldn’t be able to see the join.

Being British was good, in those days. Any incomer with any sense would want to become one of us….why, if they tried hard enough, within a generation they could be leading Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition. We’d fought two World Wars against a common enemy, and out of the sacrifices of the common people had come a national unity we cherished, and wanted to preserve. ‘Don’t talk about politics or religion’ was a rule in most workplaces, as a means of keeping the Communist or the Kensitite from rocking the happy communal boat. Anyone with a doctrine to push was best advised to become a secondary school teacher, and try their luck in the new, religiously amorphous Comprehensives. Christianity may have ranged from the piously earnest to the complacently flower-arranging, but at least it was the English thanking God that He was English too: the Lord held benign cultural sway in Midsomer, in the 1950s.

What broke the spell? Was it, as we tend to assume, that we grew increasingly fascinated with our own prosperity, and found more exciting ways of spending Sunday? If so, how comes it that the Americans, wealthier than us, remain palpably closer in their allegiance to the Cross? Or was it rather that we began, from ‘Honest to God’ onwards, to vigorously shoot ourselves in the foot? You could argue that John Robinson et al touched the zeitgeist of their time, and explored the questions people were asking: but it is the responsibility of those into whose hands the welfare of the flock is given to find and give God’s answers, rather than rewrite the Church’s doctrine in ways we find more easily acceptable. True Doctrine is hard to stomach not just because it comes from beyond our own culture’s confines and comprehensions, but also because it actually calls us to stop sinning. Trim the doctrine, and soon you’ll trim the ethics and behaviour. I used to wonder, as a student, why the early Church Fathers got so worked up about (say) the nature of the Trinity: I’m beginning to understand now.

Anyway, we let our Christianity go, and doctrine changed to niceness. Along came the Ecumenical Movement, and folk were going to flood back into church when they saw how sweetly we were smiling at one another. Meanwhile, a strange thing was happening. The immigrants, far from becoming English, were establishing their own thriving sub-cultures, unashamed of their differences from us. Enoch had gone, but the problems he saw remained wherever immigration had reached critical mass.

These foreigners weren’t humbly integrating into our tolerant, religionless society. What was to be done? A way of accommodation had to be found: enter the Multicultural, Multi-Faith Society, in which we all required to be mutually nice. By this time, however, the media were on a roll. God’s Church continued to devalue, and apologise for, itself. The centre having given way, Shakespeare’s ‘quick comedian’ was able to poke unbridled fun at all the spokes that came out from it – the monarchy, politicians, traditional morals and mores, all no longer feeling any God-given pride in themselves, meekly allowed themselves to be publicly ridiculed. Christianity, simply put, was easy meat. Our dusky neighbours, however, were sensing no such self doubt. Labouring under the conviction that the faith of their fathers was actually true, and embraced the holy and unmockable, they were quick to stand up for the dignity of their beliefs and institutions. The Multiculturalists responded by inventing the Ethnic Minority: no one must offend Ethnic Minorities. The watering down of Christmas, and any trace of Christian influence and culture, carried on under the pretext that it could, possibly, upset the Zoroastrians. Anything deriving from the colonies was to be protected, promoted and prized: our own spiritual storehouse could be ignored, or laughed at, with impunity.

Maybe there are nice minded people out there who really think we’re better off for having become a religious jumble, and that our future strength and happiness lies that way: the realpolitik we face, however, is that the enemies of Christianity are taking every advantage of our own divisions and confusions and are trying to wash us out of the nation’s life and memory. We may not want to go heaving bricks through the glazing of establishments mocking what is holy, but if we want to survive we must, albeit by less violent methods, robustly stand up to those who scorn us. We will actually gain more respect, and more adherents, by so doing.

Hugh Baker has, in his time, been represented in Parliament by Enoch Powell and John Profumo