Monday, 8 October 2007

Answers for Yankee Doodle

Just as I promise myself to do less ‘serious’ blogging, Yankee Doodle sends me a birthday present of five questions to answer! So here goes……

1) You are turning 80. Congratulations, and Happy Birthday! During the Battle of Britain , Prime Minister Churchill commented that he hoped that the courage demonstrated by your countrymen during that battle would mark that period as Britain's finest hour. You were alive during that time period. What are your thoughts on World War II, and the character and substance of the peoples of the British Isles during that time? How would you compare the character and substance of the peoples of the British Isles then with now?

Churchill’s actual words [as France fell in June 1940] were: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour’.” Although the British Empire did not last another 50 years, 1940 was indeed England’s finest hour. As a teenager growing up through the war years, I wasn’t aware of any defeatism, even when things were at their blackest. Remember that 40,000 people were killed in a single year during the German Blitz on British cities without shaking our resolve. Practically the whole nation – there were of course a few exceptions – was united in its conviction that we were bound to win, not least because the Nazi regime we were fighting was so evil. Hardly anyone had doubts about that! And Churchill’s war speeches and broadcasts were more inspiring than anyone who did not hear them at the time can possibly imagine.

Today we are a different nation with a different generation and a different, more variegated, racial and cultural mix. It is difficult to generalise about the prevailing mood. I do not think that most people - including people in government – yet realise the seriousness of the developing 21st century global situation. There is a great deal of disillusionment with bad leadership, mainly over the flawed decision to invade Iraq and the clumsy mishandling by America of the campaign there. Most British folk are not anti-Americans as people, but we are much more critical of American attitudes and policies than we were before 9/11. The sterling quality of the British character hasn’t changed – we will rise to the challenge of an emergency when it’s almost too late, as we did at Dunkirk – but far too few people yet realise that there is a crisis, or what its nature is. And the media’s constant ‘dumbing down’ and focus on trivialities doesn’t help.

2) When you were a young adult, what was communication like? What are your thoughts on the changes you have seen in your lifetime in this field: the expansion of the telephone system, the improvements in television, and, of course, the advent of computers and the internet? These things have opened up possibilities for people. What, in your opinion, are the most significant, and why? What, if any, dangers do you see resulting from these technological improvements?

When I was young, there were far fewer cars and no motorways. We mostly travelled long distances by steam train – very smoky and dirty, especially when going through tunnels! Civilian air flight was in its infancy. We had no television until after the war, and only limited public service radio. [My grandfather, in the 1920s, had been fascinated by the primitive early crystal-and-‘cat’s whisker’ sets]. People still read a great deal more than they do nowadays, and there were excellent pubic libraries [many endowed by Andrew Carnegie]. There was very poor reception for ‘long wave’ broadcasts from America and the rest of the world, and nothing like the instant global communication we have become used to during the past couple of decades thanks to computers and the internet. The creation of this virtual ‘global village’ opens up exciting possibilities of drawing people closer together and increasing mutual understanding, but it also carries great dangers to personal freedom because of the technical ability to eavesdrop and censor which is bound to be used [and misused] by authoritarian governments. We are already seeing a growing tendency toward this, not only in still partially closed societies such as China but also in our so-called free democracies.

3) What changes in the demographics in Britain during your lifetime are most noteworthy to you? What kind of impact do they have?

Britain has always been a haven for political refugees, and we are proud of this tradition. However, the mass economic migration of the past 30 years, mostly from Asia, is creating social problems and cultural dissonance which did not previously exist. The debate about ‘multiculturalism’ has proved a red herring and led us to a dead-end. No-one wishes to deprive immigrants of what they cherish in their own cultures and way of life, but there has to be a willingness on their part to blend into the host community harmoniously and not to challenge its core values. This is not always the case now – especially with Muslims. The character of many British cities and towns has changed markedly in recent years. When I was growing up in Yorkshire, there were scarcely any Muslims in the nearby city of Bradford. Now, the Muslim population there is approaching 100,000 [20 per cent.]

4) You have commented on my blog about Islam. Islam has spread significantly into the West in your lifetime, and has become associated with violence. As a reader and a thinker who has seen a share of history, do you feel this is association is a fair portrayal? Please put the current situation with the spread of Islam and the violence that has been associated with it into historical perspective for us.

I bear no personal hostility to Muslims as human beings, and value the friendship of the former chairman of our local mosque, who used to live next door to me. But I am apprehensive that the doctrines of Islam, by which they set so much store, are incompatible with Western notions of a free, tolerant, and open society. It is obvious from the claims being made and the arguments advanced that there is no room for compromise between Islamic values and Western democratic values. You cannot blend chalk with cheese, or mix oil and water. Most people in the West are still in a state of denial about this, and accuse those of us who point out these obvious truths of being ‘Islamophobic’ – a meaningless term, because there is nothing ‘phobic’ about being frightened of intolerance and unreason. Violence is not the main problem at the moment, though it could become so if sensible preventive policies are not quickly put into place. There will always be spasmodic violence perpetrated by hot-headed youths, whatever their belief-systems. The proper way to deal with it is through firm policing – not military adventures in a spurious ‘war on terror’. There should certainly be much tighter curbs upon further immigration into Europe, and stricter repatriation of illegal immigrants except for those who are genuine political refugees.

5) Comments that you have made indicate you feel it is not just Islam that poses a threat to humanity. Please explain your views on religions in general, then on various religions in particular. What are your thoughts on Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and any others that you may have encountered?

Historically, religion has played a key role in the development of human society and provided the bedrock of our culture. But with the development of more rational thinking and scientific methods of advancing knowledge and technology during the past three centuries, religious belief, if adhered to literally and not just metaphorically, has now become a hindrance to human progress. And also to peace – because all religions cannot possess the sole ‘truth’, which is what each of them claims to do. So inevitably they will fight each other, as well as ‘unbelievers’, and unless the trend towards self-righteous intolerance which seems to be burgeoning in all three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – at present can be halted and reversed, the 21st century seems set for a series of catastrophic religious wars. Hinduism and Buddhism also have their fanatical and destructive sides, as we see, but they - especially Buddhism - have a great deal of constructive spiritual insight to offer, as indeed do the ‘mystics’ of other religions, including Christianity and Islam [the Sufis]. I personally don’t believe in the ’supernatural’, but I do find much wisdom in the Eastern scriptures.

1 comment:

Yankee Doodle said...

Well done!

I will cross-post it in a day or so -- I want to give your readers the first shot at commenting.