“An idea which is a distortion may have a greater intellectual thrust than the truth; it may serve the needs of the spirit.”

—Susan Sontag

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.  We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents, who are for the most part the future growth of the immigrant-dependent population.  It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping its own funeral pyre.”

—Enoch Powell

In Max Frisch’s prophetic, absurdist masterpiece The Firebugs, a well-off family live in an unnamed city in which arsonists have been burning down the houses.  One of the firebugs, posing as a peddler, appears at their home asking for food and shelter.  Notwithstanding all the evidence that Sepp Schmidt is undoubtedly one of the arsonists, Gottlieb Biedermann, the husband, allows him to sleep in the attic.  His wife, Babette, is troubled but acquiesces.  Filled with guilt for firing his best employee, Herr Knecktling, who never appears, Gott-lieb Biedermann assuages his guilt with what he believes is an act of charity.

Biedermann then welcomes Schmidt’s friend, Willie Eisenring, into his house, although he arrives carrying an arsenal of gasoline barrels.  Eisenring flatters him by professing admiration for his way of life.  Biedermann soon realizes he has let the notorious firebugs into his house but believes that, by displaying generosity, he will make his house immune to them.  Ignoring the obvious clues as to their intent, he even helps Eisenring measure out a fuse, denying to himself that the firebugs have chosen his house because it is located next to the gasworks.  Much like the jihadist clerics who openly preached hatred of Britain and her values and to whom the British government granted asylum, Eisenring declares that “the best and safest method” for hoodwinking people “is to tell the plain unvarnished truth.”

What is missing in The Firebugs is a character who sees and understands what is going on and shouts at the top of his lungs that there will be a disaster but who is ignored and even vilified.  In light of the attacks of July 7 in London and their repercussions, it is increasingly obvious that this character in the history of British immigration policy is Enoch Powell.

Powell, who died in 1998 at the age of 85, was an urbane and superbly educated man.  He studied classics at Cambridge and became a professor of Greek at the University of Sidney at 26.  He spoke five languages fluently.  Elected to Parliament as a Tory, he rose meteorically in British politics as a compelling orator and skillful infighter.  In his personal attitudes, he was hardly racist.  According to Ted Heath, Powell told Harold Macmillan’s cabinet that it could face down British nurses in a pay dispute “because I can bring in all the nurses we need from the West Indies.”

But Powell, unlike Susan Sontag, had no use for a distortion of the truth because it was good for the spirit.  One such distortion, for which he had no use, was the Commonwealth.  “Nations live by myths,” Powell often observed, and to Powell, according to Ronald Hansen in Citizenship and Immigration in Postwar Britain, “the Commonwealth was an errant myth and a dangerous myth.”  Indeed, the Commonwealth was the very vehicle that proved to be the basis for British multiculturalism and the entry into the country of its own firebugs.

Just following World War II, the nonwhite population of the United Kingdom was approximately 30,000 in a country of a population of 50 million.  This was all to change.  The British Nationality Act of 1948 (BNA), designed to shore up the United Kingdom’s relationship with the “Old Commonwealth” of Canada, New Zealand, and Australia (because these old dominions were central to its economic and foreign policy), was not, Hansen insists, “designed to facilitate and did not anticipate, non-white immigration.”  Nevertheless, because it created a scheme of imperial citizenship, it allowed some 800 million British subjects around the globe—the vast majority from nonwhite developing countries—the right to enter the country indefinitely and became the legal framework for the emergence of British multiculturalism.

Randall Hansen regards this phenomenon as “incredible,” particularly since it ran directly against British public opinion and the 1945-50 Labor government’s rejection of Commonwealth immigration as a way to solve the labor shortage.  But because former colonies such as India, and the Muslim entity that became Pakistan, as well as countries such as Jamaica, had no right to prohibit citizens from leaving, and because, by virtue of the act, there was no way for Britain to prohibit them from entering, what started out as a trickle became, with the availability of cheap transport, a flood.

Given increasing British prosperity and the living conditions in what became known as the Third World, that this should have come as a surprise is astonishing.  Yet throughout the administrations of Churchill and Eden, efforts to curtail immigration were ultimately rejected.  Decisive in the debate was the position of Alan Lenox Boyd, the colonial secretary, who threatened to resign if immigration restrictions against nonwhite British subjects were enacted.  Insisting that such legislation would be “fiercely resented” in the West Indies, Africa, and Asia, he asserted that “I must therefore record that I could not agree to legislation confined to Colonial immigrants” and effectively vetoed any efforts to curtail nonwhite immigration.

Conservative leaders concluded that doing anything that might be construed as “racial discrimination” was impossible to justify.  In fact, the Tory hierarchy viewed Cyril Osborne and other conservative proponents of restrictions on nonwhite immigration with disdain, fearing a liberal backlash.

It is Ronald Hansen’s contention that liberal, pro-immigration opinion in British governmental institutions, including Parliament, persisted and always ran counter to British public opinion that favored increased restrictions.  When restrictions were adopted, they were the result not of institutional racism, as many British scholars have contended, but the outcome of public pressure that was resisted, so that restrictions were delayed as long as possible.  This analysis makes sense if one looks at the restrictions that were ultimately adopted, and how they were reversed, starting in 1993, by a series of measures and actions designed to circumvent them, as well as by the influx of numerous undocumented “migrants,” in the parlance of the United Kingdom.

The first of these restrictions, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, adopted in 1962, drew a distinction between the rights of the U.K. born and U.K.-passport holders and the rights of those who held passports issued by former British colonies, and it required that people from former British colonies, such as India, Pakistan, and Jamaica and other Caribbean islands, be placed under immigration controls, with the requirement that they secured employment and that they possessed specific skills to enter the United Kingdom  Adopted in the shadow of the Nottingham and London riots of 1958, it had the reverse of its intended affect.  As Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah and Francesca Hopwood Road have written in “United Kingdom: Rising Numbers, Rising Anxieties,”

Fear of further restriction motivated many to treat the 1962 act as a final opportunity to settle in the UK.  Many temporary labor migrants, as well as those who had already settled permanently, took advantaged of family reunification provisions, thus increasing immigration from those countries in the short-term.

Moreover, with its many categories, it was far more liberal than it appeared at first blush.

With racial tensions mounting as the result of increased immigration, Harold Wilson’s Labor government moved to adopt the 1965 Race Relations Act, which sought to diffuse the growing hostility to the immigrants by outlawing discrimination in public places such as hotels, public houses, restaurants, and entertainment or recreation venues, and created a race-relations board to mediate disputes.  It also extended the Public Order Act of 1936 to prohibit “the dissemination of written matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting, with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or whereby a breach of the peace may be occasioned” and defined it as an offense “for a person, with intent to stir up hatred against an ethnic or racial group, to disseminate written matter, or in a public place, or a public meeting to use speech, which is threatening, abusive or insulting and likely to stir up hatred against that group on grounds of race or colour.”  It was under this provision that Enoch Powell would be threatened with criminal action for his 1968 address.

At the same time, the Wilson government promised to enforce immigration restrictions and to close loopholes, calling for Commonwealth immigrants to be required to register with the police, with the home secretary having the power to repatriate any such person who had outstayed the period for which he had been admitted.  As for further restrictions, when Lord Mountbatten returned from a visit to Commonwealth countries to discuss immigration (Pakistan refused to receive him), he reported back that such restrictions would be viewed with considerable hostility.  It was a balancing act worthy of Herr Biedermann.

Then, like Biedermann firing his best employee, Home Secretary Callaghan in the Labor government announced that the United Kingdom, under the 1968 Commonwealth Immigration Bill, would no longer recognize the passports of Asians fleeing Kenya as the result of “Africanization” policies.  Even as they were fired from civil-service jobs, restricted to certain areas, and driven out of key sectors of the economy, what they regarded as their sole security, their British passports, which had given them unrestricted entry into the United Kingdom, were rendered useless, with some 200,000 people made stateless.

Callaghan’s rationale for the 1968 bill was that, for Britain to become a multiracial society “free of strife” (an objective he embraced), she had to strike “the right balance between the number of Commonwealth citizens we can allow in and our ability to ensure them, once here, a fair deal not only in tangible matters like jobs, housing and other social services, but, more intangibly, against racial prejudice.”  In one stroke, he turned the Asian Kenyans into the Jews of Africa, giving rise to ensuing guilt and the need for charitable acts.

With Asian Kenyans barred from entry (the Uganda Asian crisis would come in 1972), other Commonwealth nonwhite immigrants continued to come to Britain in a steady flow.  This set the stage for Enoch Powell to enter the immigration debate, as multiculturalism started to become a distinct possibility.

Hansen defines “multiculturalism as a sociological fact, i.e. a multicultural society is one in which a substantial portion of the population (5% or more) is made up of non-European migrants and their descendents, when these migrants/descendents have origins in diverse regions.”  Today’s Britain qualifies by this definition, as Powell predicted.

Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech, which he delivered in Birmingham on April 20, 1968, was a spirited attack on the proposed 1968 Race Relations Bill and called for major restrictions on immigration.  Speaking to his constituency, he uttered the words that would cause close friends in the party such as Iain Macleod to disown him and force Heath to dismiss him from his Shadow Cabinet position because he considered the speech “racialist in tone”:

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding.  Like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”  The tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which is there interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect.

In actuality, Powell’s position did not digress much from official Tory policy and, in hindsight, seems not extreme.  He first observed that there is a big difference in a country such as the United Kingdom between a one-percent nonwhite minority and a ten-percent nonwhite population.  Powell viewed “integration” as a chimera because of racial and cultural differences and argued that increases in nonwhite immigration would lead to a tipping point in race relations that no legislation could cure.  Anticipating the anti-integration movement among the nonwhite immigrants themselves that would become pronounced in the decades to follow, he called for drastic restrictions on immigration and saw curtailment as necessary when the percentage started to exceed tolerable limits.  Because integration was bound to fail, Powell asserted that violence would be inevitable if current levels of immigration continued.

In line with Tory attitudes, he further argued for “re-emigration” that was not forced but was based on incentives.  Lastly, Powell advocated equality for all races in Britain, without any group benefiting from special treatment.  Relying on Britain’s ancient common law, he opposed antidiscrimination measures that interfered with private persons’ freedom of association both in human relations and in commerce.  In this respect, he opposed both forced segregation and forced integration.

Speaking at a Rotary Club meeting in Eastborn on November 16, 1968, he defended his Birmingham speech, stressing the need for a “programme of large-scale voluntary but organized, financed and subsidized repatriation and re-emigration”:

Sometimes people point to the increasing proportion of immigrant offspring born in this country as if the fact contained within itself the ultimate solution.  The truth is the opposite.  The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England become an Englishman.  In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact, he is a West Indian or an Asian still.  Unless he be one of a small minority—for number, I repeat again and again, is of the essence—he will by the very nature of things lose one nationality without acquiring a new one.  Time is running against us and them.  With the lapse of a generation or so we shall have at last succeeded—to the benefit of nobody—in reproducing in “England’s green and pleasant land” the haunting tragedy of the United States.

As if to bear out Powell’s thesis on immigration, there is the example of one of the July 7 bombers, born in Britain of parents from Pakistan, who was rootless in Britain but, on traveling to his family’s hometown in Pakistan, found it completely alien, becoming ill on the food.  In blowing himself up, taking numerous British along with him, he created, together with the other bombers, the river of blood Powell had predicted.  All of the bombers, including the unsuccessful ones and their circle, caught later, resisted integration and lived in communities that sealed themselves off from the rest of British society.  The militant jihadist Muslim preachers to whom the United Kingdom had granted asylum, notwithstanding their violent rhetoric, influenced them.

Both Egyptian Sheikh abu Hamza al-Masri, an open supporter of Osama bin Laden who was granted asylum in Britain and who became a citizen through marriage, and Syrian Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammad (who was thrown out of Saudi Arabia and is banned from Syria and whose website carries messages from Bin Laden—yet he was granted asylum in Britain) bear an uncanny resemblance to the firebugs, Sepp Schmidt and Willie Eisenring.  By creating a multicultural critical mass, Britain allowed these jihadist mullahs to set fire to their country.  Instead of advocating allegiance to Britain, which they openly revile, they exhort their recruits to be part of the Ummah, the global Islamic nation in a struggle to destroy the West.

Polls show that Osama bin Laden is immensely popular in the self-segregated Muslim communities of Britain, where large numbers of the inhabitants acknowledge no sense of identity with the United Kingdom and her institutions.  With a growing disillusionment in Britain with multiculturalism, there is an overriding sense that integration has failed and that the numbers have something to do with it.  And, while there is no plan for mass repatriation, new draconian policies set in place by Tony Blair have already led to deportations, with the home secretary announcing that ten people would be deported at once.  Bakri, who fled the country for Lebanon, has been told he will not be allowed to return.

But what of Powell’s overall impact on actual British immigration policy?  Hansen insists that, out of power, he had a great influence, driving Britain to adopt increasingly restrictive measures.  After the speech, he became the most popular figure in Britain, with the National Front taking up his cause.

But shrewdly, Margaret Thatcher co-opted his supporters, marginalizing him and the National Front.  As secretary of state for education and science in Heath’s cabinet, she pushed Heath to adopt the Immigration Act of 1971, which, according to Sriskandarajah and Road, favored “immigration by individuals ‘of British stock,’ including immigrants from Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, and encouraged white immigration from former colonies by increasing the scope of permanent settlement on the basis of kinship and predominantly European descent.”  The 1971 act also limits admission of certain family members of U.K. citizens.  This was followed, under Thatcher as prime minister, with the 1981 British Nationality Act, which, for the first time, defined a specific British citizenship, limiting the right of residency exclusively to those in possession of it, thus purportedly further limiting immigration.  Hansen sees all of this as being derived from Powell’s influence, although Powell himself told Hansen he believed he had no effect at all.  Ever the realist, he was undoubtedly right.

In his “Rivers of Blood” speech, Powell reflected on his constituents who told him they would prefer to live elsewhere and hoped their children would.  Recent figures show that these wishes are becoming a reality.  Many British nationals, mostly white, have been moving out, settling in such countries as Australia, New Zealand, and even Spain.  If we combine this factor with that of increased nonwhite immigration, net inflows have exceeded 100,000 per year.

In 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002, and 2004, the United Kingdom passed important pieces of legislation on immigration and asylum.  They were allegedly attempts, according to Sriskandarajah and Road, “to manage increasingly large and complex flows of people into the UK, particularly through the asylum channel.”  “These laws were also associated,” they related, “with large increases in the size and budget of the Home Secretary, the UK’s immigration department, as the system tried to respond to growing numbers of asylum claims and a broadening of labor migration schemes.”

In actuality, what the U.K. government did was to use asylum and labor-migration schemes to undercut the restrictive measures adopted under Thatcher that were regarded by liberals as racist.  In an act of doublespeak, the Blair government published in February 2005 its five-year strategy entitled “Controlling our borders: Making migration work for Britain.”  It did this in advance of the May 2005 election to, as Sriskandarajah and Road put it, “restore pubic confidence in Blair and his government’s handling of the asylum and immigration system; to set out the current system; and to put forward plans for future management.”  The strategy worked.  Michael Howard and the Tories were unable to play the immigration card.  In Great Britain, diversity was now a kind of god, and immigration produced diversity.

As the prince of Wales famously proclaimed,

[L]et me say how much pleasure the whole idea of diversity gives me.  All the people from diverse backgrounds, black, brown, yellow, and the like, represent an amazing and very jolly cross section of the different communities that make up Britain.  In my view, this should be a source of pride, not envy or resentment.  I fully understand the problems and difficulties experienced by immigrant communities in Great Britain.  What we need, I think, is a level of civilized tolerance in a multi-racial society.

July 7 has changed all of that.  With a growing fear about the size of the jihadist fifth column in Britain, Blair has instituted draconian measures that threaten to turn one of the world’s greatest, if not the greatest, liberal democracies into a police state.  Until now, the BNP, which has won a handful of local elections in Bradford, and the U.K.I.P, which has picked up some support nationally, have been relatively insignificant factors.  There is no figure comparable to Powell in the country to pose a serious challenge to the major parties.  But one thing is certain: To paraphrase Marx, there is a ghost that haunts Britain, and it is the ghost of Enoch Powell.  As Powell said at the start of the Birmingham speech, “[T]he discussion of future grave but, with effort now, avoidable evils is the most unpopular and at the same time the most necessary occupation for the politician.  Those who knowingly shirk it, deserve, and not infrequently receive, the curses of those who come after.”