Ninety-two years ago, at the apex of England’s Edwardian ease, Gilbert Keith Chesterton published a curious little novel, written in his inimitable light-but-serious style. In the context of a literary ambience that had recently produced The Wind in the Willows and Peter Pan, The Flying Inn must have seemed like just another piece of whimsy, from an author already noted for whimsical productions (albeit ones espousing a traditionalist manifesto). Only now can we view this book in its proper light, and only now can we appreciate Chesterton’s keen insights into the meaning of modernity.
For those unfamiliar, The Flying Inn is a story of how Islam creeps up on an unsuspecting England and its rapid progress from fringe nuttiness to the highest offices of state.
In the first chapter, an old man in a battered fez is regaling indifferent passers-by with the ridiculous theory that English culture is really distorted Islamic culture—“proved,” he says, by the English habit of eating turkey for Christmas. Just a few weeks later, he is wearing rather better clothes and addressing Ethical Societies; a few weeks more, and he is a respected guest at all the fashionable parties.
And so it goes, until leading politician Lord Ivywood, who is temperamentally drawn to Islam because of its puritanism and extreme abstraction (to the point of inhumanity), ushers in an un-English England of abstemiousness, humorlessness, cross-crescent hybrid symbols on the dome of St. Paul’s, and fez-wearing policemen enforcing brand-new restrictions on ancient liberties. The Flying Inn has become a banned, peripatetic public house, literally run by an English Tory publican, Humphrey Pump, and a hotheaded Irish adventurer, Patrick Dalroy (whom we first meet as an anti-Turk freedom fighter in Greece). They race around the country with the old pub sign and a barrel of rum, defying the authorities, defying joylessness, and keeping alive the spirit (and spirits) of England.
Eventually, Pump and Dalroy, leading an impromptu army of patriots, defeat a Turkish army that has been smuggled into the country with the connivance of the by-now-insane Lord Ivywood: “There, encamped in English meadows, with a hawthorn-tree in front of them and three beeches behind, was that something that had never been in camp nearer than some leagues south of Paris, since that Carolus called the Hammer broke it backwards at Tours.” After the battle, the English pub is restored to its rightful place in the physical and emotional landscape, Ivywood is under medical care, and Islam is again relegated to the status of safely distant artifact.
Chesterton has his stylistic faults, including cardboard-cut-out characters, a fondness for sermonizing, and a sophistical delight in placing paradoxes on top of paradoxes. He also has a gusto for life (he and his comrade Hilaire Belloc were renowned for their gourmandism and the gales of laughter that they almost constantly emitted), a deep love of England and of Christendom, an enviable ability to evoke places and moods and encapsulate complex worldviews, congenial political views, and considerable insight into human nature. The great strengths of The Flying Inn—and the reasons why it repays study today—are its masterly evocation of English topography and character; Chesterton’s impressions of the differences between Europe and Asia (“We dress the characters and they paint the scenery”); and his analysis of the ways in which militant ideologies can exploit weakness and the strange connections that can exist between seeming opposites, such as Dalroy and the Turkish tyrant Oman Pasha, powerful and flamboyant warriors for their respective faiths who are prepared to battle to the death, yet have a chivalrous regard for each other. “I hope we shall meet again in the only life that is a good life,” says Oman Pasha to Dalroy—a reference to a much more interesting and colorful universe beyond the mundane, carpetbagging present.
Dalroy (and Chesterton) would have sided instinctively with the boatswain of The Three Half Moons, who, in 1563, found his ship with its 38-man crew attacked by eight Turkish slaving galleys off Gibraltar, who “fared among the Turks like a wood lion. For there was none of them that either could or durst stand in his face” until finally he died, exhorting his shipmates “to win praise by death rather than to live captives in misery and shame” (Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, Explorations and Discoveries of the English Nation, 1589). They would also have admired his even more remarkable shipmate, John Foxe of Woodbridge, who, although finally overwhelmed after desperate resistance, led 258 Christian slaves of different denominations in a daring escape from Alexandria after 14 years in bondage, a unique “exercise in oecumenical militancy” (Stephen Clissold, The Barbary Slaves, 1977).
In The Flying Inn, the bland fashions of vegetarianism, teetotalism, spiritualism, scientism, pacifism, relativism, and the official orthodoxies of progress and reasonableness mask darker realities. The German doctor who advocates drinking special milk for a longer life is a grasping scoundrel who waters down and sells normal milk at a premium. The successful chemist who pedals tonics in the officially alcohol-free United Kingdom is a bootlegger to the rich. The European negotiators (including Ivywood) who strive to bring peace to Greece at all costs are consigning captured Christian girls to lifelong service in seraglios and restive Greek workers to unemployment and dhimmitude. The gorgeous Islamic art with which Ivywood decorates his house is lifelessly anti-Western. The crackpot with his seemingly harmless theories about turkeys is reasoning Christians out of their religion, ably assisted by addlepated aristocrats and editorialists.
All these phenomena are fundamentally similar and connected, and all are effectively paving the way for the arrival of the battle-hardened forces of Oman Pasha—after whose victory, one can foresee, the useful idiots will no longer be quite so useful. Such “harmless” tendencies constitute a death of a thousand cuts, a draining away of the lifeblood from one tiny painless wound after another. Eventually, after the ministrations of Ivywood and many lesser leeches, all England is ready to be knocked down and conquered—as France was later trampled underfoot by Raspail’s “herd of stampeding lambs.”
In 1914, the notion that England might someday be Islamic would understandably have been laughed to scorn. Although this prospect is still far-fetched, it is much less so today, with serious authors anxiously looking forward to a “Eurabia” that will encompass all or most of the Christian heartlands.
According to the 2001 census, Britain’s Muslim minority numbered 1,546,626 (around 2.5 percent of the population), but it is a population with a markedly higher birthrate (although the latest figures show a slight tailing-off). It is often impoverished (33 percent of Muslim households with dependent children had no working adult in 2001); relatively under-educated; and alienated by religion, social attitudes, and poor language skills. However, an estimated 11 percent of British-based Muslims describe themselves as “white,” according to figures released in October by the office of National Statistics; these converts include aristocrats and other influential people. Some of them must be near equivalents of Lord Ivywood.
The most obvious near-equivalent is our forever-departing yet still sadly present prime minister. Some Muslims say that Tony Blair is “Islamophobic,” because of his actions toward Iraq and Afghanistan. However, his three administrations have encouraged massive immigration and multiculturalism. He has pushed through laws to criminalize criticism of Islam. (One present target is British National Party leader Nick Griffin, who is awaiting a second trial on charges of having called Islam “a vicious, wicked faith.” Quite coincidentally, his party is making electoral inroads in formerly solid Labour areas.) The great statesman has also shown a wooden-headed determination to admit Turkey into the European Union, even though it would increase the E.U. Muslim population from around 5 percent to around 15 percent overnight. The allegedly “Christian” prime minister talks reverentially about the Koran and sees Islam as a “religion of peace” that has been “hijacked by extremists.” Over the years since 1997, giveaway statements from his senior colleagues have shown just where their—and his—sympathies lie. For example, then-foreign secretary Jack Straw, speaking in 2005 in support of Turkey’s bid for E.U. membership, referred to “the boundary between so-called Christian heritage states and those of Islamic heritage.” Rarely has “so-called” signified so much. One can imagine Straw or Blair welcoming, with Ivywood, “the breaking of barriers” and rejoicing that “beyond that I see nothing.”
Similar attitudes percolate throughout society, right down to those at the sharp end of public order. Centuries ago, in 1989, the police declined to take action against the thousands who filled Parliament Square to demand the death of Salman Rushdie. Unmasterly inactivity is still the name of their game. This past February, they declined to take action against anti-Danish protestors who called for the beheading of nonbelievers. In October, they dropped charges against an antipapal demonstrator outside Westminster Cathedral, who had threatened that those who “insult Islam” would be “subject to capital punishment.” The demonstrators’ placards, which bore legends such as “Pope go to hell” and “May Allah curse the Pope,” were curiously not regarded as incitements to religious hatred. One wonders how they would have responded to placards reading “Muhammad go to hell.” The police were deaf to the views of Tory MP David Davies (not to be confused with David Davis, shadow home secretary), who said, “It sends out a message to Muslim extremists across the world that we, as a country, do not have the moral courage to stand up to them. They are likely to become more and more outspoken because it is apparent that we do not have the courage to stand up to them.”
In Preston in September, a four-hour race riot involving hundreds of Muslims, during which a teenager was stabbed, was described by Lancashire Police as “community tension” and “no major incident”—which casts an interesting light on Preston’s nightlife and gives a new dimension to the notion of British phlegm. In October, a Muslim officer with the Metropolitan Police was excused from duty outside the Israeli embassy in London because he disagreed with Israeli policy in Lebanon. He was supported by the Muslim Police Officers Association (yes), although even they admitted that police officers should not “pick and choose” assignments.
One can understand why policemen concerned about social stability are so reluctant to take controversial actions or to downplay inflammatory incidents. After all, they will be the first victims of any serious unrest, just as their colleagues are in France—2,500 of them having been injured by Muslims this year, in what is being described as an “intifada.” Unfortunately, angst-fueled placation is not the sole preserve of the police. One thinks of the Birmingham teacher who, despite having interrupted a carol-concert rehearsal to bellow, “Why are you saying Jesus and Jesus Christ? God is not your god—it is Allah!” was shortly afterward promoted to school inspector. No doubt he will be a strong supporter of the National Curriculum’s requirement for “broadly Christian” acts of worship during school assemblies. Even in prisons, where one might have thought common sense would be, well, common, Muslim inmates are permitted to receive such literary masterpieces as Spectacle of Death, glorifying jihad, and Islam on Homosexuality, advocating stoning for homosexuals. A paratrooper in a Birmingham hospital recovering from wounds suffered in Afghanistan was harangued by a hectoring visitor who shouted, “You have been killing my Muslim brothers!” One could multiply such examples almost indefinitely.
There is no succor higher up the social scale. The Prince of Wales is a sponsor of a major Islamic art collection in South Kensington and has an “Islamic Garden” at his Gloucestershire home. This is no mere plaything, like George IV’s “Hindoo” Brighton Pavilion, but is clearly a symbol of his expressed wish not to be “Defender of the Faith,” as his Coronation Oath will one day require of him, but a “defender of faiths.” Meanwhile, his mother has long since given up the unequal struggle to be true to her Oath, sworn so touchingly and clearly whilst wearing Norman Hartnell and bearing the regalia of England, in that Westminster Abbey of a million years ago. Her sense of defeat has most recently manifested itself in her decision to permit a part-time employee at Windsor Castle to have a special prayer room there during Ramadan. Nagina Chaudhry commented, “It feels amazing to be the first Muslim to read namaz [prayers] at Windsor Castle . . . I was reciting the prayer with more power than usual because I knew I was making history.” Meanwhile, just down the road, history of a less rarefied kind was also made in October, as a Muslim dairy became the epicenter of three nights of violence, including petrol bombing, when a dispute over a planned Islamic cultural center morphed into a minor race riot.
The simple fact is that virtually all of today’s political and opinion-forming classes would rather caress Islam than confront it. Sentiments and actions that would be condemned were they to emanate from almost any other religious tradition are mysteriously acceptable (if perhaps a little gauche) when uttered by Muslims. London Mayor Ken Livingstone, whose name is synonymous with politically correct idiocy, was pleased to receive Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a supporter of Hezbollah and enthusiast for clitoridectomy, who has said that “Everything will be on our side and against Jews on [Judgment Day] . . . at that time, even the stones and the trees will speak, with or without words, and say: ‘Oh servant of Allah, oh Muslim, there’s a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’” It is difficult to imagine Livingstone sharing a platform with a Christian pastor or a rabbi who had expressed himself in similarly vigorous terms.
The key difference, so far as the likes of Livingstone are concerned, is that Muslims are world-historical victims of “racism” and “imperialism,” old and new, from General Gordon to George W. Bush; besides which, the Muslim vote has become electorally important in many of Britain’s large conurbations. In Livingstone’s mind, a twisted morality based on historical ignorance has become conflated with a mean hunger to be reelected, and maybe even a fear for his personal safety. He clearly has lower expectations of Muslims than of members of other groups: It could plausibly be argued that these lower expectations are actually evidence of an unconfessed “racism” on his part.
Similar factors and considerations meet and meld in the minds of too many Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians—and now seem to be making themselves felt in David Cameron’s Blue Labour. All of these politicians are salesmen rather than statesmen, adjusting to what they see as reality rather than seeking to change that reality. Their collective view of those who dare to protest against what French philosopher Robert Redeker has called the “Islamization of spirits” is that they are naive embarrassments who really should just keep quiet for their own—and our—sakes. The sad truth is that politicians and journalists who prattle about the alleged tolerance of, for example, the Moors in Andalusia have a deep psychological need to believe such stories, because the implications of their not being true are far too awful for them to contemplate.
It is perilously easy to reason ourselves into despair. But across Europe, if there are reasons for despondency, there are also grounds for hope, as the actions of the interlopers spark a Newtonian reaction. In October, Turkish industrialist Omer Sabanc complained that the cartoons crisis, terrorism, and integration problems with Muslims had “unleashed some old devils in Europe” and that “extremists have started setting the agenda.”
Here in England, the London bombs of last year and the continued local electoral successes of the British National Party have elicited even from Blair and the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality denunciations of multiculturalism, as well as concerns about the social impact of immigration (not that they are actually doing anything yet). Senior appeasers such as Jack Straw have now become the targets of the ingrates they have nursed, with Straw being accused of racism in October for asking female Muslim constituents to unveil when visiting his office. Meanwhile, many within the British media have begun to write articles that, just a few short years ago, would have been confined to Right Now! or the Salisbury Review. Respected analysts such as Rear Adm. Chris Parry are speaking openly of a possible dystopic near-future of uncontrolled immigration and negative assimilation, with ethnic groups importing Third World habits and terrorism on an unprecedented scale—and attracting curiously little opprobrium, as some even on the left begin to consider the awfulness of what has for so long been stirring in the shadows.
In the best traditions of fairy tales, The Flying Inn ends happily, with “a world made fresh and warm again.” It is still much too early to say whether Britain’s nonfictional foray into the fantastical will end equally satisfactorily.