Not Saussure

November 4, 2006

Defending British values against Melanie Phillips

Filed under: UK, War on Terror, Wingnuts — notsaussure @ 4:08 pm

Much discussion of poor Mad Mel and her aperçu that

it is vital that Britain and Europe re-Christianise if they are to have any chance of defending western values

Sunny, at Pickled Politics, provides a useful round-up, including Shuggy, Chris Dillow and Norm; Unity also has some excellent things to say on the matter. Sunny adds, to my mind, one of the best coments of the lot, saying,

Melanie Phillips has simply latched on to Muslim religious extremism because it fits within her narrative that British society is decadent, immoral and about to collapse. She hopes that people will believe the answer lies in becoming like the Christian version of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Hah!

The only “threat” we face is from the small number of extremists willing to blow themselves up. Not all Muslims, though I’m sure MP believes the latter. It is relatively easy to deal with this in a police state – you simply round up any suspects and bang them up indefinitely. If things keep getting worse that is where we will end up.

In such company there’s probably not much left to say, but I’m always up for shooting at swivel-eyed fish in a barrel, so let’s have a go. Mel’s argument, such as it is, starts off with the truly bizarre and gets even worse; I mean, what is one to make of her opening:

Paul Belien says that the Dutch have effectively thrown in the towel before the unstoppable Islamisation of their country and progressively all of Europe:

Well, Paul Belien is clearly barking mad, then; what ‘Islamisation’ has the Netherlands undergone, for God’s sake? I mean, the latest figures for the CIA World Factbook (2002) suggest that the population’s religious affiliation is ‘Roman Catholic 31%, Dutch Reformed 13%, Calvinist 7%, Muslim 5.5%, other 2.5%, none 41%’; has it suddenly changed over the last few years? News to me that the place is suddenly an Islamic republic or that they’ve introduced Sharia law or banned Heineken and Jenever. I don’t understand Dutch politics, but is anyone suggesting that the two largest parties after their forthcoming general election later this month will be anyone other than the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats? Are any Islamist candidates actually standing, or, if they are, do they have any chance of being elected?

This is all most odd; I’m sure that if either the Telegraph or the FT had reported that the Netherlands are about to become an Islamic republic, I’d have noticed it.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that Mr Belien doesn’t seem to get out much, let alone to have visited the Netherlands recently, Mel quotes him approvingly and at length, and she discovers

The crucial insight here is that only a strong indigenous faith has the capacity to resist Islamisation. That is why the collapse of Christianity in Britain and Europe and its steady replacement by secularisation is so catastrophic for the defence of the west.

This is apparently the case because

Secularisation produces cultural enfeeblement, because the pursuit of personal happiness trumps absolutely everything else. The here and now is all that matters. Dying for a cause, however noble, becomes an absolute no-no. It’s better to be dhimmi than dead – the view that has now effectively prevailed in Britain and Europe.

Where do we start? Let’s postpone considering what events in the real world she might conceivably be trying to describe and have a look at the general proposition. She seems to have in mind some sort of actual military conflict in which the decadent, secular west is defeated because, unlike the Islamic hoards, we’re not prepared to die for a cause.

Can this what she’s talking about? Seems a basic misunderstanding if she is, since the general idea in military conflict is that you want the other chap to die for his cause, and if that’s what he wants to do, too, then so much the better.

It’s also an interesting, though clumsly, example of rhetorical sleight of hand. We start with the bald assertion that secularisation means ‘the pursuit of happiness trumps absolutely everything else’, presumably because ‘the here and now is all that matters’. The here and now as opposed to the afterlife, yes, but that’s not the same as what’s here now right this minute as opposed to what might be here in five or twenty years’ time or in your grandchildren’s time. Such future considerations are clearly things that for many people, whatever their beliefs in an afterlife, certainly trump immediate gratification.

Furthermore, I don’t quite see what personal is doing there in her allusion to the American Declaration of Independence. As most people know — Mad Mel’s poor husband, the Telegraph’s eminently sensible and reasonable legal editor Joshua Rosenberg (that man must have the patience of Job), would doubtless be able to explain it to her — the happiness to which the signatories of that document referred was not the sort of personal happiness Mel’s secularist lotus-eaters are apparently after; it’s happiness in the sense of general material (as opposed to spiritual) well-being, including freedom from invasion, repressive or arbitrary government and the like. And obviously it’s perfectly possible to envisage sacrificing personal happiness here and now for the sake of general happiness (in the Declaration of Independence’s sense) later on. Indeed, the secularist with half a grain of sense ought to realise such sacrifices are frequently necessary if he’s to stand any chance of enjoying happiness of either sort in the future

A moment’s thought should suffice to tell Mel that she’s got this wrong; most people, whatever their religious beliefs or lack of them, would certainly be prepared to risk their lives to protect their children or their loved ones. Ditto to defend their country. One realises that the way normal people think, feel and behave must be a bit of a mystery to Mel, but she ought to be able to see that her hypothesis is competely contradicted by everyday human behaviour.

Mel continues,

Although the US is the high temple of consumerism, it is still a country with a very strong sense of its Christian faith. That fact is key to its robust sense of national identity, confidence and pride; and because it has such a strong sense of itself as a nation, it is prepared to fight to defend itself – the one bit of the analysis that the Islamists got wrong (although there are now deeply disturbing signs that the west’s cultural enfeeblement is beginning to erode American resolve too, at least around the edges).

Another set of truly strange elisons here. A country doesn’t have a sense of its faith or its national identity, though many people living in that country may well do. More importantly, though, Mel’s got it backwards; in her analysis, it’s the sense of national identity that’s important, not religion at all. In the case of America, according to her, Christianity is an important aspect of many Americans’ sense of national identity; very well, but what are we to make of, for example, the clear willingness of the Soviet Union and its citizens to defend themselves at astonishing human cost during the Great Patrotic War? No one can deny they had a robust sense of national identity and of themselves as a nation, but Christianity had little to do with it. And, while you may argue that Communism shares some common features with religion, the better world it seeks to build is most certainly located here and now rather than in the afterlife.

The point of comparison, surely, is the sense of national identity; whether Christianity or communism is part of it is neither here nor there; and, indeed, it’s clearly possible for Americans to have a sense of national identity without being in any way religious, just as it was possible for people in Stalin’s Russia to have a strong sense of being Russian, whatever they might have thought of Soviet communism.

Mel’s argument, I’m afraid, works just as well to recommend Stalinism as it does Christianity or any other religious belief; indeed, it was used by the Nazi ideologues to recommend their particular vision of national identity and common purpose in what they saw as their battle between two opposing world views, the fight to the death to defend Europe against Asiatic bolshevism.

So, where does this leave liberals and secularists, among whom I count myself, since despite having some religious beliefs I certainly don’t want my country to try to impose religious views on people too much — the last time it was tried in Britain after all, my lot got it in the neck rather, since we were seen as primarily a bunch of malcontent Irish immigrants owing loyalties to a foreign power, Rome, who were certainly willing to blow people up to acheive our political ends and were deeply opposed to the freedoms of protestant England. Some people in Northern Ireland still see papists that way, of course, though I’m sure their sense, based on their Bible Protestantism, of national identity must commend itself to Mel no end.

The answer, to my mind, is obvious. We in Britain value mutual tolerance — you leave me alone to get on with my life and I’ll extend you the same courtesy. By and large we distrust displays of religous fervour and enthusiasm, but we’ll let others indulge in such things, despite feeling it’s a bit of a rum way to behave. But what Mel doesn’t seem to grasp is that this laissez faire attitude is a key part of our national identity, in the sense it’s what makes Britain tick.

We’re not, thank God, like the Americans or the French who, after their respective revolutions, had to invent or reinvent a definition of what it meant to be French or American. Being British is just what we are, and we get on with being it without having to worry about what our religion or where our parents or grandparents came from has to do with it. Trying to define what being British means is a profoundly un-British thing to do, and still worse is trying to impose our definition on other Britons. This remains the case, no matter how much politicians, tabloids and others try to exploit some of our less admirable human characteristics like a proclivity for bullying women about what they wear.

We’ve learned that from centuries of experience; shame Mel doesn’t grasp it.

Technorati tags: , , , , ,



  1. Can liberals deal with extremists?

    Through David T, I find some notable bloggers are having a discussion on an argument by Melanie Phillips that the only way top stop the “Islamicisation of Britain” (what else does Melanie Phillips talk about?) is through a resurgence of Chr…

    Trackback by Pickled Politics — November 6, 2006 @ 1:48 am

  2. […] Not Saussure has written a very good article about British Values and how Melanie Phillips simply doesn’t get them.. Just like all good journalists and politicians (I am neither) I am going to completely ignore the article and the point of it and comment on one sentence, from the last paragraph, taken out of context. […]

    Pingback by Definition Britain » Blog Archive » 1st rule of being British, do not talk about being British. — November 6, 2006 @ 10:39 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: