By the Jubilee Line from Green Park station in central London it takes only fifteen minutes to get to North Greenwich which is the nearest underground station to the Millennium Dome on the Thames, now an O2 stadium for sporting events and pop concerts. From there a taxi will get you to Woolwich in another fifteen minutes. I took this journey a few weeks ago, and I learned from the taxi driver that I was just the latest pilgrim on a fairly crowded pilgrimage to see… well, what exactly?

Not where Drummer Lee Rigby was brutally murdered so much as where the English people in their thousands came to lay wreaths, medals and other mementoes in his memory in the weekends following his death. The taxi driver gave me a running commentary: here was the road where the banks of flowers had spilled over the pavement into the street; they had now been removed by local government authorities; but visitors kept coming; now they usually left flowers at the entrance to the Woolwich Arsenal.

We went there. The Arsenal has a proud past in imperial history. It was one of those home bases from which the British Army set off to those small wars in Burma, India, the Crimea, South Africa, Matabeleland, and lesser now-forgotten places that kept the Victorian public patriotically entertained for more than a hundred years. Today’s tribute to that past consists of an ancient cannon propped up on a small green facing the Arsenal which is itself guarded by a soldier and two policemen at a military barrier. They look at me with detached professional curiosity when I get out of the taxi and walk over to a smaller green where the latest mementoes have been placed.

These include wreaths, personal letters, small nosegays with loving notes attached, wartime medals, a pair of Army boots, photographs of Rigby, photographs of other soldiers, and more and more flowers in different combinations. Some of these have clearly been left by family, friends and neighbours of the slain soldier. Quite a number are tributes from other soldiers, current and veteran, some who served in the Second World War, many from the multitude of small “emergencies” that marked the retreat from empire, some from the Falklands.

They reveal a deep cultural substratum of British life, both middle- and working-class, that values the things at which the dominant metropolitan liberal culture instinctively sneers: patriotism, courage, the manly virtues in general, regimental loyalty, family ties, the nation’s past. Such things have not disappeared, but they have been driven underground until an event that is either historic or shocking – the Queen Mother’s funeral, the murder of Lee Rigby – impels people to demonstrate them publicly.

I am not at all surprised that the British public came out in its thousands to lay wreaths and other mementoes on the place where Drummer Lee Rigby was brutally murdered. People wanted to show solidarity with his family and with his Army mates.


But there was something different and distinctive about the crowd too. This was noticed by one seasoned observer, Peter Whittle, the cultural critic at Standpoint magazine, and not coincidentally a native of Woolwich. He devoted a column to the crowd of mourners shortly after the murder:

[On] that day at least, around three-quarters of the large crowd at the scene were white working-class, of all ages, many of them families. I can’t remember the last time I saw such a crowd in Woolwich, and it took me aback.

Woolwich is one of those outer-London boroughs that have been transformed by years of mass immigration; in the past decade alone the white population has shrunk by 10 percent. Seeing the people that day was briefly to see the Woolwich of my youth, a working-class military town with a significant immigrant population which was for the most part happily accepted.

Now it is home to everybody and nobody.

Whittle had previously written about Woolwich two years ago following the London riots which effectively trashed the centre of his home town. He argued prophetically then that mass immigration, white flight, demographic change, and multiculturalism in a broad sense had changed what had been a working-class garrison town half an hour from central London into a kind of Babylon Anywhere with no common social, class, religious, national, or community standards.

More than all these factors, however, he indicted the metropolitan liberal culture that had discouraged the development of any such common community standards or even standards within micro-communities (aka families).

The cultural war waged by moral relativists and liberal self-haters has been hugely successful: they have trashed the place as effectively as any rioter. Authority, whether it be moral, social, familial or legal, has been chipped away at so relentlessly that it has finally collapsed. It is this, pure and simple, and not the tired excuses about disaffection and poverty, that has led so effortlessly to the burning of pubs and looting of shops.

It has led also to something else: a widespread but usually hidden distrust of institutions that are seen to embody this destructive and ultimately anarchic cultural stance. Whittle noticed that people in this “white working-class” crowd were reluctant to be interviewed by the BBC and other television crews that turned up to report the scene.

A BBC Newsnight reporter himself noticed this reluctance. He thought it arose from the belief that the BBC would never actually show how ordinary people actually felt about the murder of Rigby. One woman had said as much and, when he asked what she did think about it, she replied that the murderers should be sent back where they came from.

As Whittle points out, this interpretation is confused at best; one of the killers was born in Britain. But it reflects truly enough the sense most people have that the BBC, The Guardian, and other guardians of liberal orthodoxy almost always deal with questions such as immigration and multiculturalism in favourable, indeed, celebratory, terms.


Another reaction to this media coverage – one much criticised – came from Sir Simon Jenkins, former editor of The Times, here writing in The Guardian, to the effect that the Woolwich murder was “a mundane act of violence” which our “echo chamber of mass hysteria” had transformed into a significant political act. This brought down a firestorm of hostility on Sir Simon’s distinguished head.

I am less critical than others because Sir Simon probably recalls, as I do, the days when the BBC six o’clock news would end with an item like this:

The police are anxious to meet Mr Christie of North Kensington in London to help with their inquiries. He is of medium height, bald, speaks with a cockney accent, and was last seen wearing a grey mackintosh and red tie. The public is warned not to approach him, but to contact their local police or to ring Scotland Yard at Whitehall 1212.

This was the opposite of mass hysteria, namely a careful understatement designed not to interfere with a subsequent fair trial. But it had a kind of cool impressiveness because the listeners knew it was backed up by efficient policing and tough sentencing. The bald man of medium height with a cockney accent was usually on the gallows a month or two later.

Today the police may prove efficient in the Woolwich case – the murderers themselves are in custody but police were soon rounding up potential accomplices in droves – but few people expect the murderers to receive condign punishment. In practice murderers who get “life” are released after eight or ten years. Public outrage may keep these particular killers inside for longer, as it did the Moors Murderer, Myra Hindley, but as yet there is no real confidence in such an outcome on the part of ordinary Brits.

That’s one reason why, contra Sir Simon, the “echo chamber of mass hysteria” in response to the murder was justified. When justice is uncertain and diffident, public opinion will be correspondingly loud and angry. Their anger is directed towards the murderers; their indignation towards the authorities. Ordinary people retain at least some of the cultural self-confidence that the elites have lost. And they don’t like being governed by people who almost wilfully lack authority.


The other reason is that the murder of Drummer Rigby was transparently not your ordinary, regular, “mundane” act of violence. How many murderers stop buses in order to have the passengers take photographs of their brutal handiwork? Or give vaguely political speeches to smartphone cameras? Or wait for police to arrive?

Whatever else it was, this was a political murder. And a political murder is worse than an ordinary decent crime (to borrow Belfast vocabulary) because its victims include all law-abiding citizens in addition to, here, the slain soldier and his family. It is an announcement to everyone that the murderer and his confederates intend to change the people’s way of life “by any means necessary”. It implies a long and violent conflict.

We could ignore this aspect of the murder if we so wished. Many people at the scene did their best not to grasp the meaning of the butchery in front of their eyes. They were curious bystanders at their own assassination. Even the brave woman who comforted the dying man was, in effect, integrated by the murderers into their view of things by being accepted by them as a sort of neutral Red Cross.

In these circumstances the politicians have to make clear that the British people will make no concession whatsoever to the murderers and those who are ideologically sympathetic to them.


The problem is that it is becoming harder to make these declarations convincing. Prime Minister David Cameron is receiving praise for his strong words following the atrocity. They were indeed well-crafted and soberly delivered. It is hardly Cameron’s fault that such statements of determination have been issued so frequently after terrorist outrages that they have lost half of their force.

And when these declarations are followed by secret negotiations with (or concessions to) the terrorist groups responsible, as they repeatedly have been, they lose what remains of their force and become an incentive to despair and cultural self-contempt rather than a source of reassurance. That is another reason why ordinary British people feel a sense of fatalism when they hear brave words from an Authority that seems aware of its own hollowness.

Will it be different this time? Optimists argue that since this war is aimed at changing Britain from a constitutional liberal democracy into some kind of sharia-compliant multicultural theocracy, it cannot possibly succeed. A democratic government could not possibly surrender to such demands.

But if surrender happens – and we can be sure it would “happen” in the passive mood – it won’t be in the way of previous surrenders to terrorism. There will be no conferences in Lancaster House, no late-night discussions in Downing Street, no clocks kept artificially at five minutes to midnight to meet a deadline, andsoon.Apartfromanythingelse,wewon’tbenegotiatingwithterrorists this time.

How can I be sure of that? Well, the terrorists insist that they won’t negotiate with us. They want a straight surrender. And they do sound convincing.

So how might surrender happen? Well, if it happens, it will happen gradually, so that no single concession seems vital. Greater official tolerance for sharia courts on “family” or “community” questions; a welfare state that increasingly accommodates polygamy; a growing refusal of magistrates to license pubs in mainly Muslim suburbs; the spread of Islamic “no-go” areas, where the police don’t go, gays get beaten up, and women dressed “immodestly” have acid thrown at them; late in the day a new licensing system for non-Muslims to enjoy their vices in designated areas under restrictive rules.

At which point the Brits will be living in a different country.


Is this inevitable? Of course not. As Keynes said – and I am quoting him approvingly – “The unexpected always happens; the inevitable never.” But Mark Steyn shows how such a future is already beginning to unroll: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/349640/road-europe-mark-steyn.

So it can happen here because it is happening here.

Other possibilities, however, also lurk in the current situation. For instance, the marches of the English Defence League could be the first signs of a strong populist reaction to Islamist agitprop leading to violent religious conflict in major cities.

That outcome is most likely, in my view, if governments fail to enforce the law on all sides equally from a misplaced fear of seeming “racist” or “Islamophobic”.

Northern Ireland’s Protestant paramilitaries hardly existed in the early Troubles in Northern Ireland; they emerged because the Prods felt that London preferred Catholic interests to their own and that they must rely on themselves for protection against the IRA.

If such a sentiment ever takes hold in the context, it might spread quickly from its present narrow social base. It is already being encouraged by the barely covert assumption of much liberal journalism that the worst aspect of a terrorist attack by Islamists is the possible backlash against it or the danger that it might confirm the warnings of the English Defence League.

Well, it might. But whose fault would that be? The English Defence League is as yet nothing but a handful of obstreperous cranks and young lads who feel abnormally patriotic after a few beers. They might become more than that only if the stolid self-controlled people in the mainly white working-class crowds Whittle saw become convinced that the government was inert and helpless in the face of creeping Islamism – and probably not even then.

But saying that the EDL is “alien” in Woolwich – as one Guardian writer did – is one way of persuading them to join up.


There is, mercifully, a third possible future. This is that Britain will continue as an essentially liberal polity, in which the “white community”, non-Muslim minorities, and the large majority of British Muslims live more or less comfortably together under a set of political rules that require assent to the principles of England’s liberal democratic polity.

If this is to be achieved and both dystopian futures averted, it can only be done by coolly but firmly challenging Islamist claims now – by making clear that Britain will remain a liberal constitutional state for the foreseeable future and that British Islam will have to accommodate itself to such liberal practices as free speech, religious freedom for all, including Muslims and post-Muslims, and legal equality under a single rule of law.

The clearest way of making this point, as Australian politicians seem to have grasped, is to say that Britain will never be governed by sharia law. Most British Muslims, who have grown up in a free country and (perhaps without fully realising it) have become liberals themselves in important respects, would understand why this assurance was necessary.

As yet, however, such clarity seems beyond most British politicians.


We should not forget the murderers. After all, they did not start out as killers; nor as Islamist fanatics. One was a young, lively, generally popular Christian of Nigerian background. As with the London subway bombers, his old friends and family are amazed at his transition to Islamist terrorism.

Yet the explanation is relatively simple. Both young men were acculturated in a nation, spooked alternately by multiculturalism or Europeanism, that offered them a great deal materially but very little in the way of national identity or cultural self- confidence. At best, in the atmosphere fostered by metropolitan liberalism, they assimilated to a nullity; at worst, they were not told to aspire to being British, or to be proud of being so, but warned against being seduced by a heartless racist System.

They were offered neither pride nor a challenge. Islamism came along and offered both. And under the influence of this pernicious nonsense, they murdered a decent young man not unlike themselves.

My guess is that it will not take them long to realise their mistake – and the deep wickedness of that mistake. Unless the authorities have allowed them to receive counselling from the very forces that misled them – and nothing would surprise me about the self-destructiveness of the modern political establishment – then their foolish beliefs will no longer get constant reinforcement.

More likely, they will encounter hostility and violence. One has already had his teeth knocked out by a fellow-prisoner. And while they must be protected against brutality, they should be exposed to criticism, genuine education, and the knowledge of how decent people view what they did. The ultimate aim of imprisoning them should be to move them to feel deep shame at what they did and to admit this shame publicly.

If it makes people happier, we can call this rehabilitation.


In order to summon up the moral courage to mount a policy of patriotic rehabilitation, the British people will first have to undergo it themselves. The crowds placing flowers at Woolwich suggests that there is an appetite for it among ordinary Brits. Or was that “a one-off”? Will it be forgotten by the next news cycle?

I said a short prayer in front of the Woolwich memorials, and returned to central London. My walk from Green Park station took me through St James’s Square where in 1984 a Libyan “diplomat” fired a shot that killed policewoman Yvonne Fletcher. There’s a memorial to her by the park just opposite the Embassy.

Usually there are many flowers around it, but that morning there was just a single withered bouquet. A security guard told me that flowers are removed at regular intervals and just as regularly replaced.

“The police have a ceremony every April on the anniversary of her murder”, he told me. “The chief of the Metropolitan Police gives a speech. And other organisations hold ceremonies too. It’s quite an active memorial.”

Restoring pride and memory are the first steps towards recovering the kind of liberal British patriotism that will assimilate those minorities that at present are either hostile or simply disconnected from British identity.

So there’s hope.

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