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July 29, 2005

The Oxford and London bombers were primarily unpatriotic - they may remind us to respect Parliament

Posted by Richard D. North

Richard D. North - author of Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence and of the forthcoming Mr Blair's Messiah Politics: Or what happened when Bambi tried to save the world - argues that the London bombers had something in common with the animal rights extremists who burnt down the Oxford University boat house in early July.

Both actions were unpatriotic - in a very specific way. Respect for Parliament and its decisions used to be a cornerstone of British patriotism. Both Islamist terrorists and animal rights extremists believe that their own moral outlooks - their own political standpoints - can trump and take precedence over decisions taken by democratically elected politicians in Parliament. It is this viewpoint, argues Richard D. North, that was so profoundly unpatriotic about their respective actions. It is, however, a viewpoint not only held by a tiny minority of violent extremists. Richard D. North argues that it is an outlook which is shared today by many who would never embrace violence, not least by self-righteous campaigners from Sir Paul McCartney to Otis Ferry.

The 7/7 Bombings were reprised on 21/7. It was unsurprising that it was less noticed that animal rights extremists also firebombed a university boathouse by the river at Oxford in early July. In May, they set an incendiary device under a car in a person's garage at home. So far they haven't killed anyone, and almost certainly don't want to. They aim to frighten anyone who has the temerity to have anything to do with the use of animals in research or testing of any kind. Actually, that means anyone and everyone. We know this, because Parliament has sanctioned and in some cases ordered every bit of cruelty which happens when anyone does anything legal to an animal in a lab.

Pauline Neville-Jones, the nation's favourite spook, rightly told Newsnight [21st July, 2005] that Islamist terrorists are not necessarily trying to change policy: they are also judging and punishing us. That's true of all terrorists, and they want to do it to all of us. We should all be equally proud to be in the firing line.

What Parliament does is done "in my name", and waving a banner denying it can't undo the fact. It might be a weird idea, but no-one has had a better one. And in the cause of democracy, better people than Mohammad Sidique Khan and the Animal Liberation Front have fought much worse people even than these bombers are (or were, in the Islamist martyrs' case).

For the best part of fifty years, the British have been taught to sneer at their Parliamentary democracy. A core feature of the soft-left liberal consensus in academia, the media, the arts, and pop culture is the sense that "The People" are OK, and that they are right to see themselves put upon by toffs, The Establishment and The State. We won't be free of trouble when we undo this hokum. But we need to get our heads straight about our polity the better to thrive in spite of terrorism as well as to snuff it out. We are being bombed because of the democratic decisions we have taken: we had better learn to love the decision-making process.

Our extremists don't necessarily begin as neurotics, fanatics or criminals, and aren't necessarily mad or bad. Of course, we are pretty sure they are wrong. But above all, they are unpatriotic. They get into their awful habits of thought because they don't feel anything for the democracy in which they live. They become antinomians: people who believe their consciences trump the ordinary law or morality of the country in which they make their home.

The thing goes wider than the terrorists themselves. We are pretty sure that the extremists amongst us - whether they be animal rights loonies or Islamist fanatics, or any others - can get away with it because people around them refuse to end the horror. Sky News polled 500-odd Muslims and found that two percent of them "supported what the suicide bombers did". Five percent thought the Koran contained justification for their actions. It is very likely that Khan and his mates, and the Animal Liberation Front's ardent campaigners, were surrounded by people who agreed with them sufficiently to feel no duty to shop them and stop them. So it matters that millions of British people really believe that they do not have a voice. It's a sad thing in itself, and in a minority this crass view spawns wickedness.

One of the many absurdities of Live 8 (the pop festival called to pressurise the G8 leaders earlier this month) was that it occasioned that songster and squire of the realm, Sir Paul McCartney, to tell Radio Times that "musicians are more the voice of the people than politicians". There should be a righteous power that could dispatch him to the Tower or some cell in the House of Commons for such lese majeste. Let it not be for long, lest he compose a ballad on his incarceration and it become the anthem for a protest generation to rival those of Dylan or Lennon.

If Sir Paul doesn't get how off-beam his remarks are, then it is hardly surprising that Khan didn't get the democratic message, even after he toured Parliament and met Hilary Benn, that scion of the Commons' most famous parliamentarian and radical. But then even poor Tony Benn, his father, didn't always get it either: he used to suck up to Jimmy Young on Radio 2 by saying that the disc-jockey and news show host had more importance because of his millions of listeners than did MPs with their thousands of voters.

And of course, Tony Blair doesn't get it. Parliament has been so lazy as to allow him to run the country from his foul-mouthed court in Number 10. His craven backbenchers shouldn't have let him take us to a war of which so many of them disapproved. Of course, the fault is importantly his. Our prime minister was so keen on the moral justice of the second Iraq War (as was I) that he dissembled to Parliament and people alike. He's compounded his slipperiness by now doing a "Not me, guv" act on the role of the invasion of Iraq in all this: that infuriates supporters and opponents of the war about equally. Of course we've rattled those bastards' cages: did it, should be proud of it, and understand properly that we will incur a great cost for having decided to beard them.

This isn't about Tony Blair's distant relationship with truthfulness, or Parliament's current vicissitudes. It is about the very limited (though important) rights of those who don't agree with Parliamentary decisions. It is not likely that we will ever make bunny-huggers love animal research, or quickly persuade many Muslims that they don't understand "Western foreign policy". But we do need to help people accept that there is a very large moral price to be paid for drifting away from a respect for formal, representative democracy.

Pop concert mass affirmations and lots of people marching in white T-shirts (as at Hyde Park and Edinburgh) are all very well, but they are not as impressive as votes at the ballot box. Mass demonstrations which are designed to be hi-jacked by violent anarchists (as at Gleneagles) may merely waste police resources, but they ought also to remind us how profoundly more important are the meetings and decisions of leaders who have bothered to get elected.

Nearly everyone in Britain used once to be a fairly uncomplicated patriot, and the monarch in Parliament (yes, the queen in her coach going to Parliament with its men in tights) was the revered symbol of the country they loved (yes, Otis Ferry: it was respected and nearly worshipped as a sort of holy of holies). Big Ben is the face of British patriotism, not red white and blue underpants or our football or Olympics teams.

It isn't very surprising that many young people - immigrant and not - do not feel any of this belongs to them or that they belong to it. No-one has told them that it is their first and highest duty to respect Parliament. It isn't an option or a game. The deal is best stated clearly and boldly, as Thomas Hobbes might state it. The state will send brave, clever and energetic people to defend the rights and promote the well-being of the least significant of its citizens. In return, we have to respect the state, or get out, or expect condign treatment. Politicians, and not pop stars or prophets or priests, are the custodians of that deal. We can protect this flawed arrangement with good humour and tolerance, and mostly do. But we ought to assert it and care about it.

Curiously, the current taste for atrocity amongst some of our dissidents may at last make us see the value of these ideas.

Richard D. North is the author of Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence and of Mr Blair's Messiah Politics: Or what happened when Bambi tried to save the world.

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