The Choice

‘The British people will soon have to make a momentous choice’

Daniel Johnson

The British people will soon have to make a momentous choice. I am not, however, speaking of the general election. As things stand, neither of the main parties seems willing to face up to the choice that will have to be made, whichever of them forms the next government. It is not a choice between Left and Right, or any of the other choices that normally determine the outcome of elections. No, the choice this time is much more fundamental: do the British want to continue to belong to Western civilisation or not? If they do, are they ready to defend that civilisation? And if they are, will the British be bold in standing up for the values that underpin the West?

For much of their history, the British were leaders, not followers. Britain was a model to be respected and imitated by all who loved liberty. That is no longer true. Listen to the writer Wole Soyinka — the grand old man of African literature, the first to win a Nobel Prize, and a man who has been imprisoned by dictators in his native Nigeria. Soyinka recently declared: “England is a cesspit. England is the breeding ground for fundamentalist Muslims.” Note the definite article in “the breeding ground”: a great writer does not use words imprecisely. He was speaking after the failed attempt by the al-Qaeda terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was radicalised at University College London, to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day. Soyinka’s strictures, like those of countless others abroad who agree with him, have been ignored in Britain. Robert Burns pleaded: O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us/To see oursels as others see us! Have we in the meantime become a nation of narcissists?

At Standpoint, we make no apology for returning to this theme: Walter Laqueur has been a leading authority on terrorism since the 1960s; Michael Burleigh has done more than any other British historian to cut through the cant that so often surrounds the subject; Nick Cohen has long been a lonely warning voice on the Left; Justin Marozzi gives us a vivid portrait of a region devastated by Islamism; and on campus, our Mole analyses what is amiss. The university is the collective memory of Western civilisation. It has long been afflicted with cultural amnesia, and has now abdicated responsibility to civilise those in its care. The immediate consequences are traumatic. In the long run, they can be lethal.

The causes of the British reluctance to choose between civilisation and barbarism run deep. Among the deepest is the loss of any firm conviction that life is sacred — that to be human also means to be humane. In challenging the increasingly fashionable case for assisted suicide, Nigel Biggar invites us to re-examine our moral and cultural assumptions — among them the assumption that only bigots object to abortion, eugenics and euthanasia. Last month’s plea for religious freedom by the Pope met with a spasm of hostility. It was as if Benedict XVI had just launched a second Armada to overthrow the second Elizabeth. The British once knew how to distinguish between what the Pope called “the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs” and what Soyinka called “apocalyptic violence”. No longer: fear now clouds our judgment. 

We come back to the choice: do the British wish to survive as an independent nation, upholding the values that have evolved from the unique amalgam of Judaeo-Christian, Classical and Enlightenment ideas that we still call the West? Or are the British content to abandon their identity and their values? If the party leaders refuse to put the choice to the people, events will sooner or later force us to decide.

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