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The new reality of remembrance

We have lost a chance to build a more united narrative

Artillery Row

I have always felt very passionately about remembrance. Maybe it’s because I’m a sentimental old fool, but there is something about a stoic moment of dignified silence, the chance to remember the untold thousands who made the ultimate sacrifice. Amongst them were my great-grandfather, who fought with the Sherwood Foresters on the Western Front, and my great-uncle, who fought with the Inniskillings in the desert.

Perhaps it’s because I, like my father, had dreams of joining the forces thwarted by shoddy genes. He wanted to be a pilot but was prevented by his eyesight. I wanted to join military intelligence but was prevented by my ADHD. Instead, I am reduced to this.

This is not a choice a healthy liberal democracy should be making

The news that a million-man march in support of Palestine would be held on Armistice Day did not, therefore, come as welcome news in the Jones household. The route, from Hyde Park Corner to the US Embassy, shouldn’t take it past the Cenotaph, and Met Police Chief Sir Mark Rowley reportedly told the London Assembly that the protesters “will not be allowed near the official events or to disrupt them”. Still, there is something deeply egregious about the choice of occasion.

It seems that some of our political class feel the same way. There have been calls from MPs to deploy the Army, with Crawley MP Henry Smith telling the Daily Express, “I don’t have confidence in the Mayor of London or Metropolitan Police under him to properly handle the situation given their past poor record, and call on the Government to consider deploying military assistance.” Meanwhile Tom Tugendhat, Security Minister, has written to the Met asking them to stop the march going ahead.

This is representative of the choices that the failure of multiculturalism forces on us. This Saturday, we must choose between banning the march, or having tens of thousands doubtless hooting and hollering through a minute’s silence in honour of our sacred dead to show their support for a foreign terrorist group.

This is an ugly choice. In fact, it is not a choice a healthy liberal democracy should be making. As James Vitali argues:

A liberal, democratic society is not self-sustaining, however. Its perimeters must be guarded vigilantly against the aggressive actions of those who despise our way of life. Our leniency towards some protestors is not an example of the strength and success of liberalism. It represents an abject failure of it. If left unchecked, it will undermine the ethical foundations upon which our country is built.

It does not just represent an abject failure of liberalism. It also represents the abject failure of Britain’s laissez-faire immigration policy over the last quarter of a century.

As immigration in Britain began to increase in the 1990s, a new belief — multiculturalism — made it easier to absorb large rates of demographic change. Underpinning multiculturalism is the embrace of a multiplicity of cultures, all of equal value, but that also necessitated a rejection of the existing common culture of Britain. As David Goodhart put it, multiculturalists believed:

… that a single national story is not a sound base for a common culture because it has always been contested by class, region and religion. In Britain, the left traces democracy back to the peasants’ revolt, the right back to Magna Carta, and so on.

In order to assimilate immigrants with the minimum of friction, and since all cultures were of equal value, we accepted that we could make no demands of new arrivals — or even enquire as to their existing beliefs. This loosened the ties of our common culture, eroded any meaningful notions of British values, and introduced an unprecedented multiplicity of values across Britain to replace the common values that had come before.

“The problem is,” as I have written in these august pages before, “that these common values underpin not only our laws and welfare systems of the state, but the acceptable behaviours governing society. When we see a trebling in antisemitic incidents, schools closed in order to protect children and cricket-induced ethnic violence, we are seeing the erosion of the common values and assumptions that underpin our society.”

It didn’t have to be this way. Multiculturalism forced the erosion of our national story because it believed that no single story could hold together a nation. As Goodhart wrote, “it is also the case that these different stories refer to a shared history. This does not imply a single narrative or national identity any more than a husband and wife will describe their married life together in the same way.”

The sheer scale of immigration has rendered integration impossible

Remembrance is a handy example of the path not taken. It’s notable that the recollection of the Second World War in Britain and America is based on entirely different timelines. Ours is Dunkirk — Battle of Britain — the Desert — D Day — Arnhem, with the Battle of the Atlantic forever roiling in the background. Theirs is Pearl Harbour — Sicily — D Day — Battle of the Bulge, with the Battle of the Pacific forever roiling in the background. Yet both recollections are united in their shared history, shared cause and shared sufferings.

Through Britain’s historic global reach, Remembrance Day could have been an opportunity to remember some of those shared sacrifices — different, but no less noble, and no less worthy of remembrance. As Goodhart notes, “Britain’s story includes, through empire, the story of many of our immigrant groups — empire soldiers, for example, fought in many of the wars that created modern Britain.”

Remembrance Day could have become an opportunity to welcome those stories into the wider national story, by remembering Indian soldiers on the Western Front; West Indians in Egypt and at the Somme; the Kenyans who served in Burma; or the Poles, New Zealanders, Canadians, Czechs, Belgians, Australians, South Africans, French, Irish, American and Rhodesian who served amongst the Few during the Battle of Britain. That is to say nothing of the 200 years of loyal service provided by the Gurkhas; truly, “never had a country more faithful friends”.

What we have instead is Dilly Hussain arguing for “a resounding rejection” of the two minutes’ silence, on the grounds that “the defeat of the Ottomans in WW1, the colonisation of Palestine by the British Mandate, and the 1917 Balfour Declaration is when the idea of Israel was actualised”. The sheer scale of immigration over the last decades has rendered this integration impossible. Now we see that they have retained the ethnic prejudices and cultural allegiances liberals presumed they would abandon.

Who can blame them? What have we asked of them, or offered them to replace it? As Nick Timothy notes, “If our national identity really were just about diversity and inclusivity, we would be nothing more than a vacuum to be filled by others.”

Without a cohesive national story, the sacrifice of the Somme is finally, truly, meaningless.

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