In the summer of 1939, just before Hitler invaded Poland, a songwriting team produced “There’ll Always Be an England.” When the London Blitz began in 1940, the song was everywhere, helping to inspire Britain’s “finest hour.” Night after night, when bombs fell and sirens wailed, ordinary Englishmen and -women determined with their prime minister that they would never, never, never surrender. But the England that massed in spirited opposition to an outright assault is now giving away its nation piece by piece.
Last week, a pair of British-born men of Nigerian descent armed themselves with long blades and went looking for a victim. They found him, Lee Rigby of the Royal Fusiliers, on a busy London street. In broad daylight, they first rammed him with their car, then leapt out and started hacking away with knives and machetes, all the while shouting “Allahu Akbar!” No one rushed to the soldier’s aid, but as his butchered corpse lay on the street, witnesses turned on their cell phones to record a jihadist harangue from one of the butchers—28-year-old Michael Adebolajo, a convert to Islam.
Only days before, The Telegraph of London ran a news item titled “Christianity declining 50 pc [percent] faster than thought—as one in 10 under-25s is a Muslim.” The subheading described the decline as “catastrophic”: for the first time in England’s history, self-identified Christians will soon be in the minority. Most churchgoers are over 65, while Islam appears to have youth on its side. The reasons for this demographic shift seem obvious: a lack of interest (and faith) in British traditions and an influx of Muslim immigrants. In the last decade, almost 600,000 foreign-born Muslims have swamped an area a little smaller than Oregon, officially welcomed by a government that values “diversity” over stability.
Almost 100 years ago, G.K. Chesterton imagined a similar influx. The Flying Inn, one of his lesser-known novels, portrayed bored English aristocrats succumbing to the energy of the Turkish “Prophet” Misysra, who predicted that very soon the youth of England would be “crescent” (Muslim), while the old men would be “cross.” The police traded their helmets for fezzes and went about smashing liquor stores and closing taverns. Reaction began when a stolid, “very English” pub owner and a wild Irish captain attached the sign of their banned establishment, The Old Ship, to a cart and went about the countryside doling out rum and cheese in defiance of the law. Eventually “the eagle of liberty, which is the sudden soul of a crowd” halted the Muslim advance.
The Flying Inn is rambling and satiric fighting nonsense with good cheer, poetry, and alcohol. But Chesterton put his finger on the problem when one character challenged the “open-minded” minister, Lord Ivywood: “Don’t you see this prime fact of identity is the limit set on all living things?” The society that abandons limits eventually abandons its essential character—leading not, as the British government fondly hoped, to a peaceable kingdom, but to subjugation from an identity all too sure of itself. In the future, if there’s to be an England, the English will have to decide who they are.