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Spring 2002
City Journal Spring 2002.
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NEW BOOK FROM THEODORE DALRYMPLE:
The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.
NOT WITH A BANG BUT A WHIMPER:
The Politics and Culture of Decline

by Theodore Dalrymple
Not With a Bang But a Wimper.
 
Oh, to be in  E ngland

The Man Who Predicted the Race Riots
Theodore Dalrymple
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Not since I lived and worked briefly in South Africa under the apartheid regime have I seen a city as racially segregated as Bradford in the north of England. In South Africa, of course, the racial segregation was a matter of law: and the single road that separated the African townships from the white residential and business districts could be sealed off easily by an armored car or two. Then, if the blacks rioted, they would (in the words of my Afrikaner informant) “only foul their own nest.”

It goes without saying that there is no law to separate the races in Bradford. But stone walls do not a ghetto make: which is why it is possible in one part of Bradford to conclude that it is a typical northern British city, dominated almost completely by a white working class, and in another (reached by driving along a single major road that bisects the city) that it is an outpost of Islam, whose people have changed their hemisphere of residence, but not their culture or way of life.

Once a thriving woolen-manufacturing town, Bradford reached an acme of prosperity in the second half of the nineteenth century, before its success evaporated, leaving behind a legacy of municipal pride and magnificence, of splendid public buildings in the Gothic and renaissance-revival styles. (It was on the head of a Bradford millionaire that Eliot sarcastically stuck a silk hat in “The Waste Land.”) Even many of the terraced working-class homes are elegantly and expensively faced in stone, so that large areas of the city resemble nothing so much as Bath with textile mills added.

One beautiful part of the city, Hanover Square, is a small masterpiece of Victorian town architecture: it was long the residence of Margaret McMillan, who some 90 years ago founded the British nursery-school movement and agitated for improvements in working-class education. Nowadays, there is not a white face to be seen in the square, nor that of any woman. It is strictly men only on the street, dressed as for the North-West Frontier (apart, incongruously, from their sneakers); a group of them perpetually mills around outside the house that functions as a madrassa, or Muslim school. Horace’s famous line of two millennia ago comes to mind: they change their skies, not their souls, who run across the sea.

The informal ghetto that separates the races almost as effectively as South Africa’s formal ones nevertheless makes interracial rioting much easier. And in July last year, only a few weeks before September 11, serious riots (the worst in Britain for 20 years) did in fact break out in Bradford and other similar northern English cities, such as Blackburn and Oldham. White gangs clashed with Pakistani ones, indulging for several days in the pleasures of looting and arson, under the comforting illusion that they were fighting for a cause. The young whites believed themselves to have been dispossessed of something by the young Muslims, without the young Muslims believing that they had inherited anything from the young whites. Both groups were united in—though not, of course, by—their resentment.

One man was not at all surprised at this outbreak of inchoate racial fury. He was Ray Honeyford, the headmaster of a middle school in an immigrant area of Bradford in the early 1980s. He knew that the official multiculturalist educational policies that he was expected to implement would sooner or later lead to social disaster such as these riots: and when he repeatedly exposed the folly of these policies in print, the advocates of “diversity”—who maintain that all cultures are equal but that opinions other than their own are forbidden—mounted a vicious and vituperative campaign against him. For at least two years, the Honeyford Affair, as it was known, was a national preoccupation, calling forth endless newspaper and broadcast commentary, the man himself often branded a near-murderous racist and ultimately drummed out of his job. Hell, it seems, hath no fury like a multiculturalist contradicted.

Of course, the events of September 11 have concentrated at least some British minds a little harder on questions of cultural diversity and group loyalties. A disturbingly large number of British Muslims, from a variety of backgrounds, supported al-Qaida. Three of the captives now held at Guantanamo were from Britain, all of them products of the kind of homes that now exist in Bradford and elsewhere by the thousands. Two chemistry Ph.D.s of Bangladeshi origin are on trial in Birmingham, accused (not for the first time) of conspiracy to manufacture explosives for terrorist ends, and they are unlikely to have been acting merely as individuals. Several British Islamic charities were found to have been channeling money to terrorists. Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a transatlantic airliner with Semtex in his sneakers, had converted to Islam in a British jail. The newly alert intelligence service in the prison in which I work now believes that fully half of the Muslim prisoners there sympathize with the World Trade Center attacks: and since Muslim prisoners are by far the fastest-growing group of prisoners in Britain, already far overrepresented in the prison population, this is enough to disturb even the most complacent. The British elites, it appears, would have done far better to have heeded rather than vilified Honeyford almost two decades ago.

Honeyford’s fundamental ideas were as logical, sensible, and coherent as they were unfashionable. He argued that the 20 percent of Bradford’s population who were Islamic immigrants were in Britain to stay, with no intention of returning home; and that both for their own sake and for Britain’s, they needed to be integrated fully into British society. The children of immigrants needed to feel that they were truly British, if they were to participate fully in the nation’s life; and they could acquire a British identity only if their education stressed the primacy of the English language, along with British culture, history, and traditions.

Honeyford did not believe that the cultural identity necessary to prevent the balkanization of our cities into warring ethnic and religious factions implied a deadening cultural or religious uniformity. On the contrary, he used the example of the Jews (who emigrated to Britain, including to Bradford and nearby Manchester, in substantial numbers at the end of the nineteenth century) as an example of what he meant. Within a generation of arrival, Jews succeeded, despite the initial prejudice against them, in making a hugely disproportionate contribution to the upper reaches of national life as academics, cabinet ministers, entrepreneurs, doctors and lawyers, writers and artists. The upkeep of their own traditions was entirely their own affair, and they relied not at all on official patronage or the doctrines of multiculturalism. This was Honeyford’s ideal, and he saw no reason why the formula should not work again, given a chance.

When the storm broke over his head in 1984, Honeyford had been headmaster of Drummond Middle School for four years. His school was another magnificent piece of high-Victorian public architecture, grand without being overbearing, and conveying implicit aesthetic and moral lessons to its pupils, however humble the homes from which they came. The collapse of the cultural confidence that had produced such a school building was soon complete, however: after his departure as headmaster, Drummond Middle School quickly received a new Urdu name and then was burned down beyond repair by an arsonist, as also happened to a similar, neighboring school, now completely boarded up. All children in the area now go to school in the preternaturally hideous buildings of modern British architecture, whose combination of Le Corbusian functionalism, financial stringency, and bad taste are a complete visual education in brutality.

Honeyford brought his troubles down upon him when he published an article exposing the follies of multicultural education in the conservative Salisbury Review, after the worthy but dull Times Educational Supplement, for which he had previously written, turned it down. That the article appeared in The Salisbury Review gave almost as much offense as its content: for in the new, officially diverse Britain, the Review’s brand of cultural conservatism is beyond the pale. The Review’s name hardly ever appears without the qualification that it is rabidly right-wing, thereby implying that no intellectual engagement with the ideas expressed in it is ever necessary—only the kind of opposition appropriate to dealing with brown- and blackshirts. All opinion is free, of course, but some opinions are freer than others.

In his article, Honeyford enumerated some of multiculturalism’s problems and contradictions. The debasement of language that multiculturalist and anti-racist bureaucrats have brought about, he argued, has made it extremely difficult to talk honestly or clearly about racial and cultural matters. By lumping together all ethnic minorities as “black” in order to create a false dichotomy between white oppressors on the one hand and all minorities on the other, for example, these bureaucrats could obscure such complex and unpleasant realities as the continued hostility between Sikhs and Muslims, or the Muslim ill-treatment of women. Only by means of such deliberate blindness can the tenets of multiculturalism, feminism, and universal human rights be reconciled. Honeyford quoted Orwell to the effect that politicized language “is designed to make lies sound truthful” and “to give an impression of solidity to pure wind.”

He held up a very concrete example of how the multiculturalist mindset was damaging education. Immigrant parents, he observed, frequently sent their children back to Pakistan and Bangladesh for months or even years at a time, often precisely to keep them from acquiring any British cultural characteristics. Though this practice had obvious social and educational disadvantages for people destined to spend their adult lives in Britain—and though it was entirely illegal, as well—the authorities turned a blind eye to it.

British law obliges a parent, once his child is registered at a school, to ensure that he attends regularly; any white parent who kept his child away for so long would undoubtedly be prosecuted and punished. In the case of the children of immigrants, however, school authorities never pressed charges but instead directed teachers to keep absentees’ places open indefinitely and to regard their absence as a culturally, and therefore educationally, enriching experience. As Honeyford summed up: “I am left with the ethically indefensible task of complying with a school attendance policy which is determined not, as the law requires, on the basis of individual parental responsibility, but by the parent’s country of origin—a blatant and officially sanctioned policy of racial discrimination.” Seventeen years after he described the problem, it remains unsolved.

Honeyford’s article also called into question the unwarranted but widespread assumption that differences in educational achievement between groups reflect unfair discrimination and nothing else. In the Times Educational Supplement, Honeyford had already mentioned the great and growing educational success of some subgroups of Indian immigrants, which he linked to their system of values—with the obvious corollary that the educational failure of other groups was not attributable to British racial prejudice. As a result, a black pressure group in London branded him a “blatant racist” and demanded his dismissal if he did not accept “massive in-service training courses to purge [him] of [his] racist ideology and outlook.”

Finally, and even less forgivably, Honeyford made mention of the plight of another ethnic minority in his school: the white children, who, when the article appeared, made up a mere 5 percent of the pupils. Their education suffered in a school dominated by pupils from non-English-speaking homes, he said, and he suggested that officials disregarded their plight because their parents, ill-educated and inarticulate, had formed no pressure group, and no political capital could be made of them. (Once, in the 1960s, the city council had tried to disperse the children of non-English-speaking immigrants to schools throughout the city, precisely to prevent the development of ghetto schools such as Drummond, but race-relations experts and bureaucrats declared this practice to be discriminatory and therefore stopped it—to Honeyford’s regret.)

No one would have noticed Honeyford’s article—The Salisbury Review’s circulation being extremely small—had the local newspaper not drawn attention to it; but then an unremitting campaign against him gathered steam, under the leadership of local politicians and pressure groups, some of which sprang up expressly to get him fired. He received several death threats, which the police took seriously enough to connect his home by alarm directly to the local police station. (I repeat: he had proposed only that Muslim children should be fully integrated into British society—the very opposite of suggesting that they should be discriminated against or in any way maltreated.) For months, he had to enter his own school under police protection from the small but militant group of pickets that formed outside and grew in size and volume whenever a television camera appeared. A few small children, too young to understand what was at issue, learned from their parents to chant “Ray-cist! Ray-cist!” at him and to hold up denunciatory placards, some with a skull and crossbones above his name. The Bradford Education Authority considered the possibility of a court order against the demonstrators, since children who continued to attend the school were likewise insulted as stooges and sell-outs, but it decided that such an order would only inflame passions further. Thus political extremists learned a valuable lesson: intimidation pays.

No insult was deemed too scurrilous to hurl at Honeyford. A press release issued by an extremist group calling itself the Bradford Drummond Parents’ Support Group is a case in point: “One wonders,” it read, “whether Mr. Honeyford will be the next person to be advocating bird shots [sic] fired at the black children at the school.” Several months into the affair, Honeyford’s employer, the Bradford Education Authority, ordered him to attend a kind of public trial in a local college on the charge of disloyalty. Fortunately, the eminent lawyer representing him argued so vigorously that those intending to convict him had to acquit him.

The affair took its toll on him: after all, he was not a career politician but merely a schoolmaster who had spoken out against what he thought was wrong. His health, and his wife’s, began to suffer; and when his employer arranged to meet him secretly and offered him $30,000 in cash to agree to publish no further articles for three years, he was tempted to accept. His wife dissuaded him, however, telling him that he would never be able to live with himself if he concluded so sordid a deal.

Intimidation spread and became a tool against anyone who supported Honeyford. A Sikh shopkeeper told him that he supported his stand, to which Honeyford replied, “Why don’t you say so to the television people?” The answer was that the man’s business would be stoned or burned down if he were to do so. For very similar reasons, the majority of school headmasters in Bradford who agreed with Honeyford in private remained silent in public.

The campaign against Honeyford disregarded entirely the fact that no complaint had ever been received about his competence as a teacher, or the fact that there were always far more applications to his school (mainly by Muslim parents) than there were places. Several attempts by political zealots on the city council to have him dismissed failed for lack of legal cause. Eventually, however, he accepted early retirement: constant abuse, however unjustified, is wearing—and he wanted to spare his pupils, who, like him, had to enter the school through a daily gauntlet of 40 vituperative pickets. Although teaching was his vocation, Honeyford never returned to it. Instead, he wrote several books about race relations and education, and became a freelance journalist.

It is difficult, meeting him now, to believe that he was ever a natural controversialist. He lives in modest retirement. He is mild-mannered and unexcitable. He was once a naive believer in the freedom of expression and the virtues of plain speaking—formerly a tradition in the north of England. He thought that different opinions might be tolerated, not having grasped that the purpose of those who argue for cultural diversity is to impose ideological uniformity. In his naiveté, he also enunciated some painful truths that were tangential to his central argument: for example, that Pakistan (the country of origin of most of the immigrants in his area) had been unable throughout its history to develop either democratic institutions or a culture of tolerance. However accurate, such an inflammatory statement enabled his detractors to pretend that he was motivated by prejudice: a useful diversionary tactic from Honeyford’s underlying argument, that the induction of immigrant children into British culture and traditions was necessary both for their own personal good and for the nation’s future social harmony.

But it is impossible to meet Honeyford for long without realizing that he is a passionate believer in the redemptive power of education and in the duty of schools to give the children of immigrants the same educational opportunities as everyone else. His only regret about the affair was that it drastically shortened his teaching career. It is a tribute to the power of Orwellian language that a man who believes these things should successfully have been labeled a racist.

His own personal history would suggest some direct insight into the problems of the disadvantaged. His father was an unskilled laborer injured in the First World War and able to work only intermittently thereafter. His mother was the daughter of penniless Irish immigrants. His parents had 11 children, six of whom died in childhood. They lived in a small house in Manchester with no indoor lavatory (and not a single book). He was brought up in a place and in times when the next meal was not guaranteed to appear. Yet despite the poverty, theft was unheard of: everyone felt able to leave his front door unlocked.

Through nervousness rather than lack of ability, Honeyford failed the examination, given at the age of 11, for entrance to the local selective, state-run grammar school, a guaranteed (and by far the easiest) route out of the slums. He recalls having been disappointed by his failure, but it

was not the blow to his self-esteem that today’s educationists claim that all such failure must be—so that the principal goal of education should be the preservation of the child’s self-esteem from the slings and arrows of outrageous competition.

As was the British working-class custom of the time, he left school at the earliest opportunity to find work, an office job that bored him. Restless, he decided to go to night school to get a high school education, and he then gained acceptance for teacher training. After receiving his teaching diploma, he obtained a B.A. by correspondence course and finally a master’s degree (in linguistics). Such a man is unlikely to wish to deny opportunity to others: and his experience led him to conclude that only educational traditionalism can offer the severely disadvantaged such opportunity.

Though he failed to gain admission to a selective grammar school himself, he bitterly regrets the passing of these quintessentially meritocratic institutions, which allowed so many poor but talented children a chance to join the mainstream and even to excel in Britain’s open society. (This fact alone suggests his large-mindedness: how many people can resist erecting a general principle out of their personal disappointments?) Such schools, which ideologues condemned as elitist, might have helped prevent the strife that convulses Bradford today by creating a common culture and an interracial elite. They would have drawn (by and large, though not of course with 100 percent accuracy) the most intelligent children from diverse areas, allowing lasting friendships to form across the races among people likely to grow up to be the most prominent citizens of their respective groups.

Instead, today the schools draw children of every level of ability, but from a single geographical area only. If that area is white only, then the school will be white only; if Muslim, the school will be Muslim. Different ethnic and cultural groups—their differences preserved in educational aspic—live in geographical proximity but without any real contact. It does not require a Nostradamus to predict the consequences.

Of course, the forces that deny a British education to the Muslims of Bradford have also denied it to the whites, who—on the grounds of the new need for a multiculturalist outlook—receive schooling that leaves them virtually as ignorant of British history and traditions as their Muslim counterparts, without giving them any useful knowledge of any other history or traditions. They are thus left to float free in the sea of popular culture, without cultural or moral bearings and prey to the inchoate but deep resentments that this popular culture so successfully inculcates.

The children of Bradford’s Muslim immigrants also bear the stamp of popular culture and the sense of loss and of entitlement denied that it fosters: indeed, this is the only aspect of the West with which, inescapably, they have any contact. In one Muslim community center that I visited in Bradford, the Muslim Youth League advertised a course of lectures: Islam for the 21st Century Dude.

The scene is set for a battle of competing resentments. If we had only listened to Ray Honeyford, we should not have sown what we are now reaping and what we (and others) shall reap for many years to come.

 

 


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