On Englishness (part 1)

“And did the Countenance Divine shine forth upon our clouded hills?”

William Blake, Jerusalem
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

King James Bible, Mark 8:36

The Venerable Bede, England’s first native historian, records that Pope Gregory I, on seeing a group of fair-haired Anglian children at Rome’s slave market, exclaimed that they were “non Angli, sed Angeli!” (“Not Angles, but Angels!”) and was subsequently inspired to convert their homeland to Christianity.

If Gregory imagined that their country was a place where the Divine Countenance, or at least His incorporeal servants, were especially proximate, he was echoing a sentiment of the English themselves throughout their history. To be more precise, the English did not feel they were especially close to God, but that they lived in a place which was an especially direct means of coming into His presence. In other words, they felt that England was a land especially enchanted.

Not, however, that you would know it today. A land of trash and garbage, filthy from each weekend’s debauchery, unsafe after dark for half its residents; its children abandoned, murdered in the womb, or drugged into compliance in schools whose teachers can be sacked for ignoring their “gender identity”; its elderly abandoned in authoritarian Care Homes to slowly die of loneliness; its popular culture pure junk and its high culture pure subversion; its religion an empty relic, its institutions fossils; its people haunting soulless streets and byways owned by someone else as they stare at the latest gimmick of the globalist entertainment industry on their hand-held computers, it sits festering on the edge of Europe like an open sore.

Of course most of this is nothing special. Half the world is the same and the other half is quickly catching up. England does, though, have the distinction of almost the world’s highest rate of family breakdown, a culture of binge-drinking and football hooliganism that earn us the deserved contempt of the otherwise similarly degenerate nations on the European continent, and an unparalleled absence of national purpose. The citizens of other Western nations can at least offer a serious answer to the question of who they are and what they stand for. All we can think of to distinguish us are trivialities like the habit of complaining about the weather. And that is what our country is: trivial.

 

Within living memory, things were completely different. The oldest generation remember an utterly different, now unimaginable, country with plays and films strictly censored, religion respected, buggery illegal, immigrants rare, deference, temperance hotels, schoolmasters who wore gowns, and people with hot water bottles instead of sex lives. On the whole, it was a better country. It was harsh and repressive but it upheld normal, healthy human values like faith, chastity, family, loyalty, and self-control. It still had living traditions, a real culture, and a way of life, in sum, much closer to the human fitrah.

It was also a country which, in the modern period, committed great crimes. I will not discuss this here. My excuse is two-fold: first, that so much has been written about it elsewhere, by people far more knowledgeable than myself; second, that it is not relevant to my aim in this essay. That is to explore what an Islamic England might look like, and to examine points of convergence with Islam in our national tradition and how they might be built on. I will therefore largely stick to our virtues, for so much has already been written about our vices. Suffice it to say about Empire that other countries have committed worse crimes, and that they too have cultures worth preserving. That Germany produced the Nazis does not mean that Germanness should be abolished: it means it should be purified, God willing, by the Divine filter that is the shariah. The same goes for England.

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The notion of England as an enchanted land is the central theme of Sir Roger Scruton’s England: An Elegy, by far the most thoughtful attempt to understand a culture that was extinguished within the writer’s lifetime. This notion provides the linchpin of a people’s self-understanding and explains the institutions and customs that they built. I will consider a few of these here and show the virtues which they share with Islam, before returning to the concept of the enchanted land to consider how it might affect our future.

First, England was a land of freedom. This is a commonplace, in fact a cliché. It would be better to say that it was a land of individualism. The freedoms which we prize today—to fornicate, to abandon our families, to behave indecently—have nothing to do with it. I won’t recount the tedious magna carta mythology of the nineteenth century here. It is significant, though, that the Anglo-Saxons already seem to have practiced, in common with other areas of North-West Europe, the system of manorialism, whereby serfs would work a piece of land individually assigned by the manor’s lord. This led to weak extended families and spending a lot of time with relative strangers. Partly as a result, tribalism seems to have been replaced by impersonal law as the basis of justice as early as the tenth century reign of Aethelstan.

From very early on, England was therefore a society whose basic unit was the individual rather than the family, tribe, or clan. This had enormous virtues. It produced a people given to innovation, scepticism, and personal initiative, and it explains much of the rest of our national character. The Qu’ran tells us that no bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another (35:18), and we know that the eternal drama of souls that is the reality of human existence knows no tribe or nation. We also know that the individual soul is tested through its obligations to its family and neighbours, but nothing in English society rejected this. It was a society that believed in God and in a moral law: it differed from less individualistic cultures in that it more clearly affirmed that the duty of obedience has only the individual as its fundamental subject. This in no way weakens the duty.

English individualism was really a noble ideal: that a man should obey the moral law out of real choice and knowledge, not blind conformity to convention or the wishes of others. This is the basic message of Shakespeare, whose characters are individuals par excellence. “This above all: to thine own self be true” says Polonius to Laertes; but he does not mean the nafs but the ruh and its sense of God and justice. Shakespeare’s heroes pray and ponder, fear God, believe in the Hereafter, and seek purity and forgiveness; but they do all this as individuals, thinking for themselves and aspiring to be independent of others’ good wishes. It is perhaps the Bard’s concern for authenticity that allows even moderns to appreciate him; but as Sheikh Winter puts it, his values “are closer to the ethics of Islam than the ethics of the monoculture. He is not the spiritual ancestor of Jade Goody”.

This individualism is now completely foreign to us, even though a memory of it is used by fake traditionalists to promote their de-moralising agenda. In tandem with all the other facets of national decline in the last sixty years has come an erosion of traditional liberties. Suspected “terrorists” can now be held without charge for up to two weeks, in flagrant violation of the medieval principle of habeas corpus, or else placed under virtual house arrest indefinitely through so-called Control Orders, and the State, tiny before 1914, now intrudes impulsively on every aspect of our lives. Individualism is also dead as a cultural ideal: television and then the internet put paid the ideal of self-direction, and the young inhabit a culture of abject conformity, believing they are expressing their authentic selves by all doing, and enjoying, exactly the same boring things.

The other side of the individualism of the manor was a premium on self-control. The poor could often not marry until a plot of land became available through death, and they therefore had to practice delayed gratification. Thus, another central virtue of the English—much as this will be incomprehensible to most Englishmen born after about 1950—was sexual restraint, and a related culture of self-control.

The Victorians, and even our own grandparents in the middle of the twentieth century, believed freedom and self-control were inseparable. This saturates their Imperial propaganda and explains the strict code of moral censorship and the restrictions on the rights of moral deviants which they upheld, seeing absolutely no tension with their ideal of individualism. Astonishingly, the 1956 Sexual Offences Act made it a crime for a man to introduce a young woman to a third man with whom she subsequently fornicated.  Meanwhile, the Obscene Publications Act strictly prohibited any kind of positive representation of sexual immorality in writing. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence’s trashy piece of soft porn whose 1960 test case undermined that law, had a power to genuinely shock that the Tinder generation can’t even imagine.

Of course, this culture of repression was excessive. It did not understand the value of sensuality, and it could on occasion lead to moral catastrophe. The idea of Victorian England as a gigantic brothel run by a hypocritical, hedonistic bourgeois is, however, complete rubbish. Most people must have managed to practice self-control because in a world without truly reliable contraceptives less than four percent of children were born out of wedlock. Until the nineteen-sixties, an even smaller number of marriages ended in divorce. And although late marriage has been a custom of the English for centuries, we didn’t completely lack moderation in our repression, and the role of marriage in taming uncontrollable desire was prescribed as a cure for the vice of self-abuse by most Victorian writing on the subject just as it is in Islam.

Scruton, who admits it was excessive, shows that it could also make people beautiful. In the opening chapter of his book he describes his grammar school chemistry master, Mr Chapman, a devout Anglican and former colonial officer, abandoned by his wife somewhere in the tropics, but in his own mind still married—this being an indissoluble sacramental bond, as per the teaching of the Church in his time. A humble, kind, and powerfully dignified figure, whatever desire he might still have felt was sublimated into a pure and (to anyone’s knowledge) chaste affection for the boys he tutored.

The basis of all moral elevation is the riyadat al-nafs (the war against the lower self), and its corollary is, as Ghazali puts it, “breaking the two desires” of the stomach and the genitals. The English, though since the eighteenth century we lacked a spiritual tradition to make sense of this process, excelled at breaking both, even we erred too much on the side of repression, rather than Islam’s great via media. There is a reason our food, too, is terrible: it reflected a puritan fear of sensual indulgence, and the boys of the nation’s elite were consequently served a tasteless cuisine of chopped meat and overcooked vegetables at their terrifying boarding schools, which probably achieved its intended effect of making them tough and disciplined young men.

Connected to this was a predilection for modesty and restraint. I have previously commented on the schizophrenic attitude of Western conservatives to hijab (Hijab: A Great British Tradition, November 2017), which was actually worn (though not at all times and places) by English women until a few decades ago. Her Majesty the Queen still wears it often, and Mitchel and Kenyon’s films of Edwardian England show us, as a BBC costume drama never will, that working class English women then often dressed more modestly than Muslim women do now.

This was paralleled by a desire not to impose one’s personality upon others, or to have oneself so imposed upon, typified by the “English eccentric”. An Englishman’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes, and his greatest ambition was to own a little piece of his country, where he could rule his own private kingdom in peace and solitude, undisturbed by his neighbours. Orwell called us a “a nation of flower lovers… stamp collectors, pigeon fanciers and amateur carpenters” in 1941. Peter Hitchens, who justly called the destruction England has faced in the last sixty years The Abolition of Britain, contrasts the funerals of Winston Churchill and Princess Diana: the former involving controlled, dignified grief and tolerance for different responses, the latter a scene of a television-imposed conformity in narcissistic emotional incontinence.  Scruton comments that, until this time, for the English “there was no need to express an emotion simply because it happened to be one’s own”; despite having a vocabulary far larger than other Latin languages, English has few words for the subtler inner states.

Some of this tendency still survives. It is reflected in our habit of apologising when shoved in the street, which is a way of avoiding emotional imposition, and the love of the private sphere is apparent in our relatively high rate of home ownership. The culture reflected a deep modesty of character which is also an Islamic value. For instance, it is of the Prophetic Sunnah to speak very little, and this is fundamental to Sufi practice: while Scruton observes that foreigners were routinely amazed that “the natural condition of the English, both in public and in private, was silence.”

Another virtue of the English was our reverence for law. The English system of common law and equity is very different to that of other Western nations: the law was originally made by judges, not by the state, based on specific judgements on the cases that came before them, rather than abstract principles of justice.

Although much (but by no means all) of the common law system has now been replaced by statute, it was originally a system very similar to the structure of the shar’iah. Magistrates interpret law according to the precedent of their seniors, who at the highest levels of scholarship have the privilege of ijtihad or independent reasoning, and this process takes place outside the direct authority of politics. Of course, the content of English ijtihad is very different, because common law is inductive and fiqh is deductive: the former is not based on Revelation but on custom and intuition, which given our lack of access to uncorrupted Revelation was no bad thing.

Nevertheless there is a deep similarity in spirit. Wael Hallaq in The Impossible State explains the difference between Western and Islamic law in terms of “paradigms”. Western civilisation is based on a Schmittian paradigm which privileges “the political”; law flows from the decree of the state and there is no structural mechanism to ensure it reflects morality. By contrast, shar’iah is an inherently moral system, incorporating subjects that the West doesn’t recognise as law at all, and its “judiciary” of qadis, muftis, and fuqahah is institutionally separate from the ruler and holds him accountable to a higher authority. The Sultan and his men are accorded only a narrow sphere of leeway within a system that bases law on the Divine, and thus places morality above politics. This may be alien to Continental systems of civil law, with their Napoleonic Code and inquisitorial tribunals, but in England it was in fact the law’s central ideal.

Doubtless it rarely realised this ambition in practice, but ideals still regulate men’s conduct when they fail to live up to them by preventing them from becoming totally depraved. The reverence for law as an impartial realm of justice, beyond the reach of power and privilege, has run through English history for over a thousand years. Magna Carta was substantially based on a charter issued by Henry I over a century before, and even his bastard father, for all the brutality of his Conquest, had sworn to rule by the law of the land. In modern times, all the critics of the injustices of our elite admitted this ideal of law had at least some impact on their conduct. As Orwell put it in the same 1941 essay, in which he called for a radical upheaval in favour of democratic socialism, “Everyone knows that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor” but at the same time, “the hanging judge, that evil old man in scarlet robe and horse-hair wig…who will at any rate interpret the law according to the books and will in no circumstances take a money bribe, is one of the symbolic figures of England”.

This convergence may be no coincidence: recent scholarship has suggested that the shar’iah had a huge impact on the development of English law in the middle ages, and whole areas, such as the law of trusts (roughly, waqf) seem to have been imported wholesale. The attitude of reverence that this ideal inculcated in the English is derived from its connection to our enchanted isle. The common law was the law of the land and its authority came from the land: it represented the system of natural justice appropriate to England itself. Hence in the trial of Somersett’s Case in 1772, which determined that masters could not forcibly remove their slaves from the country, an advocate could declare (for all his hypocrisy) that “England was too pure an air for a slave to breathe in”, and it was natural that his words became famous. Something of this reverence survives into the present: we are no longer the safe, orderly country we were a few decades ago, but we still feel, more than most comparable peoples, that The Law can be invoked as the final moral, as well as practical, arbiter in our disputes.

Finally, the empirical, pragmatic tendency of the law reveals a wider disposition for scepticism and intellectual humility. In the modern period, all our great philosophers, except during a brief period in hoc to Hegel in the late 19th century, have been of an empiricist bent, and until around 1910 our art was stolidly, resolutely realist. Our politicians, too, have been averse to abstract thought. Ian Gilmour spoke for centuries of English leaders, and not just for his own party, when he said that “when it comes to ideology, the Conservative is advised to travel light”, while the Labour Party famously “owed more to Methodism than Marx”. This, combined with our reverence for legality, is probably the reason we avoided succumbing to the great ideological death-cults of the twentieth century in significant numbers. Moseley’s British Union of Fascists never caught on because people simply laughed at them when they paraded in the street. Continentals may have mocked our aversion to theory, but it was Theory which sent the kulaks to Siberia and the Jews to Auschwitz.

This is also apparent in our religious traditions. The 14th century Cloud of Unknowing, perhaps the greatest surviving work of indigenous spirituality, sees the embracing of one’s ignorance, and the surrender of conscious cogitation, as the beginning of wisdom. “On account of pride”, its anonymous author argues, “knowledge may often deceive you, but love builds”. England was also the first major European country to embrace religious toleration. The first Elizabeth, who ended the period of doctrinal chaos immediately following the Reformation, proclaimed that though she would require outward conformity to the rites of the newly restored Church of England, she would “not make windows into men’s souls” by prying into their private faith, a notion which finds clear parallels in Islam’s approach to apostasy.

With the extension of toleration in the wake of the Glorious Revolution, this same suspicion of dogma eventually gave rise to a flourishing network of Unitarian churches, who rejected Trinitarian mysteries in favour of pure monotheism. It also informed the first Westerner to launch a serious defence of Islam, Henry Stubbe, who concluded that “the sum of Mahometan religion” consisted in “not clogging Men’s Faith with the necessity of believing a number of abstruse notions which they cannot comprehend, and which are often contrary to the dictates of Reason and common Sense”.

England’s unique religious style can most clearly be seen in its religious architecture. The cathedrals of Salisbury or Lincoln are buildings as great as almost any in the world. But they do not intimidate like those of Chartres or Amiens. There are no dizzying facades or impossible buttresses, no challenges to normal metaphysics. Their glory is humble; their spires, tall is they are, do not try to rise up to meet God but to coax Him into joining us down below. With their rambling cloisters, their illogical rural settings, they are vernacular buildings which grow out of, rather than sitting on top of, their surrounding communities. They are horizontal rather than vertical. They affirm tasbih rather than tanzih. They tell the onlooker that he need not feel distant from God because He is already here, in England.

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This brings me back to the centre of the English culture, which was the sense of inhabiting sacred land. It unites all the virtues I have discussed. It was the reason for our reverence for a law which grew out of that land and expressed the conception of justice appropriate to it. By imbuing awe for the sacredness of the everyday it promoted our striking diffidence and modesty of character. It was the natural companion of an identity based on ties of geography rather than ancestry, and hence also of our anti-tribal individualism. And its uncompromising particularity and earthy rootedness explains much of our aversion to dogma and abstraction, for we did not need such things to know whom we were. For that we relied on gestures, not genealogy—and certainly not on ideals.

This did not entail any kind of ethnic chauvinism, though it was appropriated for such by the Victorian and Edwardian shills of Imperial grandeur. It could accommodate any number of immigrants, so long as they remained a trickle rather than a flood and had time to make the land their own. We did not think ourselves superior to others, but more fortunate, for inhabiting a land where the Divine presence could more easily be felt—here, in “this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.

Here I will end part 1 of the essay. In part 2 I intend to discuss the role of Islam in England’s future. Wa Allahu alam.

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“To move from Christianity to Islam, for an English man or woman, is not the giant leap an outsider might assume. It is simply the logical next step in the epic story of our people.”

Sheikh Timothy Winter, British and Muslim?

“An Englishman can visit his pub on the regular, but may not find alcohol there; no matter, he believes in God’s commandments on it. He may visit his Church as he used to, though the main congregation will be on Fridays.”

I have been writing about England’s virtues. Had I wanted, I could also have written about its vices. Our obtuseness, our philistinism, our cold and atomised families. Our acceptance of injustice, our enormous hypocrisy. I do not want to do so because I do not wish to preserve these things. Custom, by default, has the weight of law in shar’iah, but not vicious custom.

But alone among the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths, the Qu’ran does not mention the Tower of Babel. Man’s division into nations and tribes is not a punishment. We are enjoined to love and to enhance the particularities of our native lands, but also to purify them. Englishness is a constellation of customs, institutions, and traits of character that flourished in a particular spot of dunya, and which, lacking God’s guidance, often veered to excess. Islam offers a middle way between extremes of any trait; and Aristotle, in the Western tradition, also recognised that both too much or too little of a virtue can make it into a vice. What is precious in a specific inheritance is generally the constellation and not the stars within it, some of which may in themselves contradict the Sacred Law. An Islamic England will not, therefore, be unchanged, but it will be enhanced in its distinctive cultural genius.

Exactly what should an English Islam look like? How should the Sunnah be instantiated in our sceptered isle? What of its ‘urf should be preserved, what should be revived, and what should be forgotten? These are difficult questions, complicated even more by the confusion created by the dominance of the global monoculture and its war against the fitrah.

Thankfully we do not have to begin afresh. The British Isles have a tradition of native Muslimness going back to the middle of the 19th century, when Darwinism and modern archaeology began to disrupt Christian self-confidence, and after the Trinitarian Act of 1812 removed the legal penalties on non-Christian worship. The outstanding figure in this movement was Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam, a Liverpool solicitor who converted to Islam in the 1880s after a trip to Morocco and, in recognition of his efforts to spread the faith in his native country, was appointed Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles by Abdul Hamid II, the last Ottoman Caliph to have real power.

The Liverpool Muslim Institute which Sheikh Quilliam founded involved close to a thousand people at its peak, and gained enough respect for the city’s mayor to attend their celebration of Eid. As part of their daw’ah at a time when most English men and women were still at least occasional churchgoers, the Institute offered Sunday “services” to the city’s non-Muslim population in competition with the local churches, at which they would explain the message of Islam in a familiar idiom. As part of their missionary effort, the city witnessed a brief flourishing of genuinely indigenous English (and Welsh and Scottish) Islamic forms of music, poetry and art. Notable examples from Quilliam’s time include Yahya Parkinson, whose martial poetry is redolent of Men of Harlech, and Amherst D. Tyssen, who composed Islamic songs in the style of the Anglican Hymnal. This tradition continues today in the poetry of Paul Sutherland, who celebrates the landscape of both England and his native Canada through the medium of his Muslim faith. The lines below are taken from Tyssen’s An Appeal to Christians, and were probably sung during one of the LMI’s missionary services:

And Jesus to his hearers

Prescribed a rule divine,

Call no man Lord, but worship

One God, your Lord and mine.

 

Then hold his name in honour,

Pursue the path he trod,

Observe his worthy precepts,

But make him not your God;

 

Nor list to heathen fables

That picture him God’s son,

For God was ne’er begotten,

And He begetteth none.

 

When He on aught decideth,

He saith – So let it be;

And lo! It is; for all things

Conform to His decree.

 

Then all good Christian people

Come worship God alone,

And place not Christ nor Mary

As rivals on His throne.

 

Sheikh Quilliam always claimed to be a patriot and a loyal British subject, but living at the time of the British Empire’s most rapid expansion, he found it increasingly difficult to reconcile his loyalties to Queen and Caliph, and eventually left for Turkey, only to return to England after the Ottoman collapse to live a strange, more private existence under a new name and identity. The Liverpool community floundered in the absence of their charismatic leader, but he remains the spiritual grandfather of English Islam. Since his time, and throughout the twentieth century, a succession of English (or British) men and women have made great contributions to the din, from Marmeduke Pikthall, who translated the meanings of the Qu’ran, through Martin Lings, famous for his biography of the Prophet(saw) and Sheikh Abdulqadir As-Sufi, to Sheikh Winter today.

Almost all these men seem to have felt that being Muslim not only did not contradict their British patriotism but actually strengthened it. This is surely because of the deep areas of convergence which I explored last time. When he was not receiving prizes from Al-Azhar for his English sira, for example, Dr Lings was also a world-renowned scholar of Shakespeare and even published several books in which he argued that his plays amounted to an expression of the sufi path. Today, even His Majesty Prince Charles has shown he has a deep and genuine sympathy for the faith, to the point of penning forwards to Dr Lings’s books and serving as the patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and accompanying the ulama there on foreign trips.

There have been significant converts from other European nations. One thinks of France’s René Guénon or the Italian sufis inspired by Julius Evola. But there is not, I think, the same sense of convergence between Islam and native patriotism.

I have been writing about English culture as if it still exists. It does not. Scruton called his book An Elegy for a reason: he describes a period of cultural destruction in the late twentieth century which he calls the “forbidding of England”.

England has a complex relationship with modernity. On the one hand, it was the first country to become “modern”, so much so that in many ways modernity is really the export of Englishness abroad. Society based on the individual, government based on consent, the impersonal rule of law, a privatised religious faith: all these archetypical features of modernity were native to England, the only difference being that here they actually made sense, because part of a wider culture in which they had evolved over centuries.

Consequently, for a time England weathered modernity very well. One of our greatest achievements in this period was the maintenance of domestic peace and political stability; there has been no fundamental revision to our constitution since 1688. Even industrialisation did not really disrupt our sense of belonging: doubtless it was traumatic for the labourers fleeing rural starvation into the armies of the dark, Satanic mills—in the 1840s, Edwin Chadwick found that life expectancy in the slums of Manchester was nineteen. But culture survived. We never felt truly at home in the city, and the nineteenth century witnessed the strange spectacle of the world’s first industrial nation setting almost all its art and literature in the countryside. Meanwhile, in an effort to re-enchant their world, the Victorian bourgeoise built themselves little suburban imitations of the gentry’s stately homes, while they built whole districts of their commercial cities in sweeps of fairy-tale neo-gothic, full of crenulated office blocks and turreted warehouses that sicken contemporary onlookers because they try so desperately hard not to be what they are.

As England’s folk traditions disappeared in the grist of the factory floor, they were recovered and preserved for posterity by men like Vaughan Williams, who collected dying folk songs and set them to modern music, at the same time as the expansion of hymn-singing, music hall, and brass bands ensured that some of the old cultural expressions could be preserved in modernity, distributed by the phonograph record and then the wireless in the industrial cities. Civic life eventually came to flourish too, with a network of institutions—the boy scouts, the Rotary Club, the cricket team, associations for every conceivable kind of hobbyist—evoking in their half-contrived rites and rituals a sense of continuity with the rural past which was more than half real. In the mid-twentieth century English schoolchildren played the same outdoor games as they had in the eleventh. Now, of course, they play Angry Birds.

The forbidding of England is a phenomenon of the last few decades, beginning in earnest only in the nineteen sixties. Peter Hitchens is right to call this period a “cultural revolution”: it was the beginning of the greatest, most rapid and most unprecedented change in the way of life of any people ever experienced. The collapse of religious belief, the sexual revolution, the growth of pop culture—all these things transformed every Western country, not just England, and they are now being rapidly exported to the rest of the world through accelerating globalisation.

But in England their effect was qualitatively different. Our identity as denizens of an enchanted land was dependent upon the feeling that it was enchanted. The revolution destroyed that feeling because it destroyed the beliefs, customs, and moral code that sustained it. It destroyed the Anglican Church, which baptised over half the nation’s new-borns in 1960 and claims barely ten percent of them now. It destroyed our ethic of restraint and self-control. It destroyed our customs and institutions of leisure and replaced them with the habit of gawping at screens.

At the same time, it was accompanied by two phenomena that were peculiarly English: an upheaval in the physical environment and a deliberate assault on historical consciousness. Until the ‘sixties England had resisted the excesses of modernism in architecture, and had refused to adopt the utopian experiments of the likes of Le Corbusier. Since town councils started re-housing slum dwellers in the late 19th century, council houses had been imitations of the homes of the middle class, suburban villas in miniature, complete with bay windows and tidy front lawns. Suddenly, the last of England’s slum dwellers found themselves in giant towers of concrete, blasphemously gesturing at the heavens, trapped in box-like apartments where the only neighbours were the people on television. A people who define themselves through privacy and rootedness cannot live in such conditions and remain themselves.

Simultaneously, the countryside was transformed through a wave of agribusiness, motorway-building, and suburbanisation. The great industrial cities were tight and compact and did limited damage to the rest of the country, for all their filth and squalor, but until this time we could live in them while still pining for the familiar old pattern of the countryside that was our spiritual home. When the landscape of that countryside was transformed beyond recognition this was no longer possible and we began to despair. And as if to add Divine insult to this injury, from 1967 Dutch Elm disease swept the country, all but wiping out the giant guardians of England, often growing to over a hundred and fifty feet, so prominent in the landscapes of Constable and Turner, towering over our churches and houses like haggard soldiers, whose disappearance left the landscape unprotected and spiritually flat.

And as their world was being turned into a concrete playground, the English found that even their memories were under attack. At the exact moment that the family was breaking down, that rebellious youth cultures were breaking out, that the rising generation began to adopt more of their values from their peers than from their elders, England’s schools ceased to teach its young about its culture. Even today, French schoolchildren are expected to be able to quote from an established literary canon in their exams and are taught a sweeping narrative of their country’s history designed to instil pride and confidence. To some extent, the other countries of Great Britain also still promote this form of patriotism, through, for instance, the celebration of Burns Night or the invocation of the alleged heroism of William Wallace. England has no equivalents with any hold on the national consciousness. This is the result of choices made quite deliberately.

In 1960, O-level exams in English literature (the equivalent of today’s GCSEs) involved the study of a list of canonical writers, from Chaucer, through Spencer, Milton, and Swift to Wordsworth, Dickens, Arnold, and Kipling; whilst history was a (not uncritical) narrative arc from Anglo-Saxon settlement to the First World War via Agincourt, Plassey and Waterloo. Within a few years, the authorities, wracked by anxiety about identity in the wake of Imperial collapse and trying to accommodate new arrivals from former colonies with their own cultural heritage, dropped all this and replaced it with a course in multicultural citizenship. Today children learn no history to speak of. They might analyse in minute detail the causes of some specific development in the Civil War, and probably know a lot of random biographical facts about Hitler or Martin Luther King, but for the most part, the new history, which focusses on so-called skills that children will only use if they choose to become historians, goes completely over their heads and leaves them with no story to make sense of whom they are.

The trashing of England’s literature is even more tragic. GCSE candidates study one play of Shakespeare and are lucky to even read all of it, while the rest of the course is a dreary dissection of Of Mice and Men and possibly another short novella, and the dredging up of “personal responses” to an anthology of seemingly randomly selected poetry, most of it subversive, postmodernist drivel written by the sort of fake intellectual who thinks that neglecting to use punctuation is a challenging metaphysical statement.

Wisdom, as the Prophet(saw) said, is the lost property of the believer; and the English have lost a treasure-house of wisdom in their literary heritage. William Blake, for instance, who penned Jerusalem, the closest thing England has to a national anthem, rejected Trinitarian obfuscation in favour of pure monotheism and consequently expressed a moral vision very close to that of Islam. And this is to say nothing of the profundity of Shakespeare, who is plausibly the greatest English-language articulator of the inner realities of the din that we will see. As Hitchens sums up this work of destruction, “a culture that in living memory still read The Pilgrim’s Progress and readily recognized quotations from Isaiah now watches Sex in the City and thinks Vanity Fair is a magazine.”

Last glimpses of this culture can still be seen at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning in a village or market town. In the ancient parish church, a dozen or so octogenarians, stiff and formally dressed, will assemble to celebrate Holy Communion according to the rites of the Book of Common Prayer, in a cold stone house whose walls exude English modesty, with no music and no jolly modern hymns, with only the occasional cough interrupting the haunting, melodious liturgy of Thomas Cranmer. This is what England must have been like: but it is extinct.

Thus, a great culture and a great country was trashed, sold off, and concreted over. All the facets of this revolution taken together amount, for Scruton, to the Forbidding of England: the loss, never to be regained, of an enchanted home, of those “happy highways where I went / and cannot come again” as Hausman put it. It is not, therefore, for nothing that Hitchens can write, with justice, not just of England’s decline but of its abolition.

And yet. Though England may be extinct as a culture, the English still exist as a people. Hitchens did not think it would be so. Seeing the revolution ultimately as a political project, he foresaw the next stage being England’s final dismembering and carving up into administrative regions of the European super-state, shortly antecedent to the abolition of the monarchy and the smashing of the altars. He has so far been wrong.

In the referendum on leaving the European Union, Britain (really, England: Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain) was faced with a choice about whether it wished to continue to exist as a people. The EU is a bureaucratic, Bonapartist institution based wholly on the Continental model of civil law and completely alien to England’s legal and political traditions. It is also wholly committed to the never-ending process of “ever closer union” and the final merging of European nations into a single repugnant super-nation. It does not aim in doing this to transcend the nation-state, a modern political contingency that is an improper object of a Muslim’s patriotism; merely to recreate it on a larger scale and a more arid and artificial basis. If England had voted to remain it would have been our end as a people and a nation. Instead, in the face of the almost unanimous advice of our supposed betters, of legions of technocratic “experts”, of armies of economists, econometricians and professional politicians, we voted to be a nation and not an aggregation of cheap labour.

So if England was an enchanted land, we might say that though it has been destroyed, the English have not. Critics of so-called “nationalism” claim that nations are invented by the states they claim to represent. There is some truth in this; certainly, the idea of a British people seems to have been partly constructed after the Act of Union with Scotland, and involved the expropriation of the culturally dissident crofters of the Scottish highlands after they revolted against our Protestant constitutional monarchy in 1745. England is obviously not a modern invention, however: the concept was already a basis for governance from the earliest period of political unification in the 10th century; consequently, the Anglo-Saxon historian Nicholas Higham has even claimed England could somewhat plausibly be considered a nation-state at this time. And far from being sustained in existence by the British state, that state has actually been considerably hostile to specifically English patriotism over the last few decades, especially under Labour governments. So what we are dealing with is a reality, an authentic instance of the nations and tribes into which man has been divided by God.

And the English have one enormous strength. Other Western nations base their identity either on ethnicity—as in most of Eastern Europe—on Christianity, or on secular liberalism, as in America and to some extent France. English identity is based on none of these things: we are simply the people who identify with the memory of our once-enchanted land; a community grounded in residence, not race or creed. Becoming Muslim will therefore not change this identity. Whereas it must in a nation whose very being consists in rejecting Islam, as in constitutionally Christian or liberal societies, and generally, too, in an ethnic nation. In Germany, for instance, Turkish migrant communities were expected to eventually return home until the middle noughties. Consequently the idea of being a fully German Muslim is still very difficult for the natives to comprehend. State-led promotion of a multicultural identity is therefore provoking huge resistance because it so obviously makes no sense: it seems to deny the distinctive existence of the group who until yesterday defined the German nation.

This is why odious movements like Generation Identity seem to be flourishing on the European Continent but are not doing so in Britain. The Alternative für Deutschland, which came third in the last Federal election, claimed in 2016 that “Islam…is not compatible with the constitution” and calls for bans on burkhas and minarets. Similar movements thrive in Norway and Denmark, while Geert Wilders’s Partij voor de Vrijheid declares that it will fight the “growing influence of Islam in Dutch society”, inspired by the memory of Pym Fortuyn, murdered by a left-wing activist in 2002 and the grandfather of a specifically homosexual strain of anti-Islamism, who argued that our religion must pass through the “laundromats” of Reformation and Enlightenment before it will be compatible with the liberal, fun-loving Netherlands.

This kind of open hostility is not, thank God, anywhere near as prominent among serious movements in the UK. Of course prejudice and hostility exist, but our own version of the recent populist uprising, the bucolic UKIP, largely stuck to the rhetoric of a banal civic nationalism. In Europe, a multiculturalist political elite utters platitudes about tolerance and diversity that make no sense to peoples who define themselves in opposition to Islam; in Britain, this tension does not exist, and polling evidence also suggests that popular hostility to Islam is far less intense. It is, at any rate, less bound up with the state: it is impossible to imagine the vicar’s daughter Theresa May telling Muslims to rewrite the Qu’ran as France’s former President Sarkozy recently did.

The English, therefore, have the opportunity to become a Muslim nation while still remaining themselves, in a way that other Western countries perhaps do not.

And we will become a Muslim nation—or we will perish. All particular communities will eventually perish in the monoculture beneath the weight of global capital and communications, and sink giggling into the sea in fits of fornication. Ultimately, of course, unless stopped, the monoculture will abolish humans altogether: its scientists are well on the way to working out how to replace us with an upgraded, more compliant model.

If I am right, we English still have a better chance of combining orthodox Islam with genuine indigeneity than the other parts of the West.  In doing this we have, already, a trail blazed for us in the work of Sheikh Quilliam and his successors. Our people are of course still prejudiced. But they will be cured of this only by this indigenisation of Islam; for although they are alienated from their heritage, they still define themselves in terms of its memory—the memory of their land of lost content.

Let us pray that Allah(swt) makes that land once again a land of angels as well as Angles.

Wa allahu alam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “On Englishness (part 1)

  1. “England was too pure an air for a slave to breathe in” is a dissonant quote for a Muslim to cite.
    While you state the problems clearly, the conclusion jumps the rails completely. I’m struck by your apparent liking for a gradual, piecemeal, tentative buildup of knowledge, common law, etc, open ended, open to individual genius. But then you go for a theology which has it that every interaction is mediated through the One, which is the fatalistic attitude that explains the material and cultural poorness of the Islamic world.
    It’s a puzzle.

    Like

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