Who’s Sorry Now?

Joe Conason has written some good articles at Salon lately, but Conason’s most recent article actually made me cry.

Like most of their continental neighbors, the nations of the north [i.e., north Europe, esp. Scandinavia] provide free or highly subsidized, high-quality child care that begins as soon as new mothers return to work. Nearly every child between the ages of three and six is enrolled in the public child care system, because it is staffed by well-paid and well-trained workers overseen by the national ministry of education. The results include not only better socialization and education of young children, but far lower poverty rates, especially among single mothers. And the security of European families is enhanced as well by the universal provision of decent old-age pensions and health care, which relieves the financial burden of supporting elderly parents while trying to raise children. So does free or low-cost university education.

Having raised two kids by myself, I remember the juggling act I did for years as a long, grueling ordeal of exhaustion, work and worry. For example, what do you do when a child is too sick to go to school and you’re out of work sick days? What do you do when the boss wants you to work late and the day care arrangement absolutely positively ends at 6 pm? I also remember that an upcoming school holiday meant I was spending hours on the phone (while at work, of course) trying to find babysitting. The cost of my son’s day care before he was old enough for first grade (I couldn’t send him to public kindergarten because it was only half day) cost thousands of dollars at a time I could barely afford to keep the electricity turned on.

Extreme example: I remember many years ago there were news stories about a mother whose child care arrangements had evaporated, so she kept her child in her car while she was at work. Her employer noticed she kept going out to her car, and checked it out and found the child. So there was a big scandal and much clucking about what a bad mother she was. But her perspective was that if she didn’t go to work she wouldn’t be paid and could lose her job altogether, and then what was she supposed to do? Our culture says that single mothers who don’t show up for work are bad people who just want to be on welfare. What were her alternatives? Frankly, she didn’t have any alternatives other than put her child at risk or lose her job, and none of the news stories picked up on that.

I’m not saying that keeping one’s kids stashed in a car is a good choice. It’s very dangerous. But parents are perpetually being put into these no-win situations in which they have to choose between job and children. Two-parent households may be more resourceful about it, but it’s still a problem. For single-parent households, really bad compromises are a constant reality. So sick kids get left home alone or left with babysitters of dubious character, and parents steal time from employers to take care of parent duties. It’s not so much how will I best take care of this, but who’s going to get the short end of the stick this time?

Well, I’ve ranted about that. Let’s go on.

Right wingers always get things backward. They see statistics that show unmarried people, especially mothers, are more likely to live in poverty, and their solution is to encourage people to get married. Like just about any struggling single mother wouldn’t be thrilled if a decent man she could care about popped into her life and wanted to marry her.

But my understanding of the sociology of thing is the other way around — people are not poor because they are not married; they are not married because they are poor. People hanging on to the edge of the economy by their fingernails live exhausting, chaotic lives that do not support stable relationships. And there is copious data showing that good marriages can come apart when a couple’s financial support collapses.

The Bush Administration sank $750 million into a “healthy marriage initiative” that did nothing whatsoever to relieve anyone’s financial burdens. Typical.

Jordan Stancil writes at The Nation that “the big meaning of the [economic] crisis for Europeans is the vindication of their ideas about how to run an economy.”

“I remember the days when American economists came to Germany and told us we had to privatize our community banks, that our small, family-owned industrial companies were not a strength, that we had to move closer to the Anglo-Saxon way of doing business,” Jens van Scherpenberg, an economist at the University of Munich who for several years led the Americas unit at the quasi-governmental German Institute of International and Security Affairs, told me. “If someone came here and said that today, the response would be laughter–sarcastic laughter.”

Paul Krugman keeps saying that Germany has some major economic problems that it lacks the political will to address, so their cockiness is a little misplaced. However, the social support Europeans receive from their governments means that the economic crisis is causing much less individual pain for Europeans than it is for us here.

This bit from Stancil’s article is fascinating:

Werner Abelshauser, an economic historian at the University of Bielefeld in Germany and a leading expert on differences in transatlantic economic cultures … argued that this is not about social justice; it’s about protecting skilled workers–the source of Europe’s competitive strength. He said this is in contrast to the United States, which doesn’t have, and never did have, as many skilled workers. “Production systems developed differently in each country,” Abelshauser said. “German industrialism always depended on high skill levels–and that was one of the main reasons for the establishment of the first social programs in Germany. It was not just about politics or social justice–it was about taking care of the skilled workers because they were economically valuable.” The profile of the US workforce was different, so American industry developed different production processes, ones that were suited to a lack of skilled labor.

It says a lot about our “every man for himself” mentality that we as a nation actually make it difficult for people to get job training and education beyond high school. You’re on your own to find the money and the time. I understand that in Europe there is much more support of apprenticeship programs that allow workers to learn advanced skills. Here, there are some vocational school-to-work programs, but they are always underfunded and mostly not taken seriously by either the education system or employers. Employers here may want skilled workers, but they don’t want to invest the money into training anyone. There are good apprenticeship programs run by the unions, but of course the Right has worked day and night to destroy the unions.

I’ve argued in the past that the Reaganomics-style, “free market,” unregulated economy we’ve been moving toward is unsustainable, and the only reason we haven’t crashed and burned a lot sooner is that the social/economic foundations laid by the New Deal and post-World War II programs kept us propped up. But now those props are just about burned.

For years the Right has predicted the European economies would collapse under the weight of “entitlement” programs like national health care and subsidized child care. From Europe’s perspective, it’s our — I should say, the Right’s — economic system that is unsustainable and sinking us rapidly.

Tolerating Intolerance

Yesterday I wrote about the liberal approach to sex ed to be found in The Netherlands and how this has resulted in world-record low rates of pregnancy and STDs in young people. The Netherlands also often is cited as having close to the lowest rate of abortion among all nations — I think Iceland edges it out by a decimal point — while allowing liberal, legal access to abortion.

Today we read in the International Herald Tribune that the problems caused by Muslim immigration into The Netherlands is causing the Dutch to re-think their liberal ideals of tolerance.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the Netherlands had lived through something akin to a populist revolt against accommodating Islamic immigrants led by Pim Fortuyn, who was later murdered; the assassination of the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, accused of blasphemy by a homegrown Muslim killer; and the bitter departure from the Netherlands of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali woman who became a member of Parliament before being marked for death for her criticism of radical Islam.

Now something fairly remarkable is happening again.

Two weeks ago, the country’s biggest left-wing political grouping, the Labor Party, which has responsibility for integration as a member of the coalition government led by the Christian Democrats, issued a position paper calling for the end of the failed model of Dutch “tolerance.”

Naturally, this story is being celebrated by The Usual Mouth Breathers on the Right as a sign that Europeans are wising up to the evils of allowing brown people with funny accents to live among them. One goes so far as to predict this position paper is the beginning of the end of the European Union.

A genuinely liberal culture is a rare thing. The default position of human civilization seems to be some form of authoritarianism. The challenge to any liberal society is to maintain liberal ideals even while factions within that society are undermining them (e.g., Freepers). Is that possible? Is there a middle ground between using authoritarian government to enforce cultural “norms” and standing by smiling while one’s country is taken over by thugs? Does being liberal mean having to be a patsy?

To me, the absolute foundation of liberalism is the value of human equality and all its permutations — civil liberty, social justice, equal protection under the law. For this reason, liberalism can accommodate cultural differences, but it cannot tolerate intolerance. Historically, genuine liberalism has not flinched from using the power and authority of government to protect civil liberties from whatever thuggish forces violate it.

This is where liberalism and libertarianism part company. In its passion for “small government,” libertarianism is perfectly happy to chuck civil liberties out the window. It is no coincidence that probably the most purely libertarian political document America ever created was the Confederate Constitution, the ultimate purpose of which was to ensure protection of the institution of slavery.

And I still believe much libertarian antipathy toward “big government” was kick-started by the showdown between federal troops and segregationists in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957. But a liberal nation cannot tolerate racial discrimination.

We should be clear that multiculturalism is not the problem. The United States always has been a multicultural nation, right-wing revisionist history to the contrary. Conservatives cherish a mythical past in which all America (except for a few fringes, of course) was populated by English-speaking Anglo Saxons. This was never true. In the 19th century, English was rarely heard in large regions of the country. I’m not talking about city neighborhoods; I’m talking about vast stretches of territory across many states. In big chunks of the upper Midwest, for example, German was far more commonly spoken than English. During the Civil War, some Union volunteer regiments were German speaking, and Lincoln had to appoint German-speaking officers to lead them.

Much of what is distinctive in American culture — music, food, language — in large part comes from African American influence. The Southwest had a thriving Latino culture before the first Anglos showed up. There have been ethnic Chinese in the West for more than 150 years. And, of course, native Americans were here first.

Human history can be seen as one vast multicultural dance. Various cultures are forever moving, mingling, changing. Sometimes a culture can be isolated for a time, but never forever. Cultures that are isolated too long become stagnant. On the other hand, expose some European Crusaders to Middle Eastern arts and sciences, and the eventual result is the Renaissance.

Although Islam seems to encourage authoritarianism, Islam is not necessarily the problem. An article in today’s Christian Science Monitor describes Muslims and non-Muslims living harmoniously together for generations in Cambodia. The articles describes a society in which Muslims are thoroughly integrated, even though the nation is more than 90 percent Buddhist.

“Integration” is the key word, I think. In other Buddhist nations, such as Thailand, Muslims are not integrated, and there is perpetual violence.

But let’s go back to The Netherlands. What happens when people with an authoritarian cultural orientation move into a non-authoritarian, liberal society? Messy and ugly things happen, that’s what. The Dutch are going to have to find their own way through this problem, but the issue before them is how to protect liberal values without violating liberal values.

The message, seems to me, is We don’t care how you worship, and we don’t care how you dress, but you may not oppress or forcibly coerce other people, including those in your own communities. And if you can’t live with that, you will go away and live somewhere else.

The other half of a liberal counter-offensive against illiberalism is to encourage integration and, to be sure those Muslims who are trying to fit into Dutch culture are given help if they need it.

The mistake made in many European countries — France in particular comes to mind — is that they’ve adopted a policy that discrimination against the ethnic newcomers doesn’t exist, even though it does, and they’ve taken no pro-active measures to enable integration and fairness. As a result, Muslims in France are ghettoized, alienated, and have little hope they can work within the system to better their lives.

It’s nearly always the case that there is conflict and enmity when cultures collide. However, the only constant in human civilization is change. Human societies cannot be frozen in amber, nor can they remain healthy walled off from other human societies.

At the same time, the cultural strife being experienced in The Netherlands is not a sign the liberalism has failed, so we must give up on it and revert to authoritarianism. I think it’s a sign that liberal societies are rare, that they are constantly under threat from authoritarianism, and that it takes work to maintain a liberal society. But the work does pay off in the long run.

Faith-Based Skepticism

According to an article in TCS Daily, “climate skepticism” is growing in Europe. Whether that’s true I can’t say, but the article itself is unintentionally, um, revealing.

Climate scepticism has now gained a firm foothold in various European countries.

In Denmark Bjørn Lomborg stands out as the single most important sceptical environmental­ist, defying the political correctness which is such a characteristic feature of his home country, as well as other Nordic countries. But wait! Bjørn Lomborg is not a genuine climate sceptic. Real climate sceptics admire his courage, his scientific rigour and debating skills, but beg to disagree with him on the fundamentals of climate science. Lomborg acknowledges that there is such a thing as man-made global warming, which is quite in line with the mantra of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). He ‘only’ challenges the cost benefit relationships of the policy meas­ures, which have been proposed to do something about it. Massive expenditures (often euphemistically called ‘investments’) in exchange for undetectable returns.

In other words, the foremost “skeptical” scientist is not a skeptic.

Real climate sceptics do not accept the man-made global warming hypothesis. They are of the opinion that the human contribution to global warming over the last century or so is at most insignificant.

Real climate skeptics are not skeptical about global climate change. They just plain don’t believe it, Bjørn Lomborg’s “scientific rigour” notwithstanding.

But, of course, they are happy with the arguments advanced by Bjørn Lomborg to bolster their case against climate hysteria.

Of course.

But the AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) belief is still overwhelming in Germany. In newspapers and on TV, Stefan Rahmstorf, the German climate Torquemada, — comparable to Al Gore in the US, George Monbiot in the UK and David Suzuki in Canada — are constantly attacking critics of the AGW hypothesis. Contrary to good scientific practice, he lavishly lards his interventions with ad hominem attacks and insinuations that his opponents lack qualifications and/or are being paid by industry.

Comparing Al Gore, George Monbiot and David Suzuki to Torquemada doesn’t qualify as an ad hominem attack?

The author is upset that no one on the Nobel Peace Prize committee is a scientist. But then he says,

Britannia rules the waves. Stewart Dimmock, a Kent lorry driver and school governor, took the government to court for sending copies of Gore’s film to schools. He was backed by a group of campaigners, including Viscount Monckton, a former adviser to Mrs Thatcher. They won a legal victory against ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Mr Justice Burton ruled that the movie contained at least nine scientific errors and said ministers must send new guidance to teachers before it was screened. ‘That ruling was a fantastic victory,’ said Monckton. ‘What we want to do now is send schools material reflecting an alternative point of view so that pupils can make their own minds up.’ Monckton has also won support from the maker of ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’. Martin Durkin, managing director of WAG TV, which produced the documentary, said he would be delighted for his film to go to schools. I have become a proselytiser against the so-called consensus on climate change … people can decide for themselves,’ he said.

Notice none of these people are scientists. Double standard, much?

Minority Majority

Whenever I hear someone advocate racial profiling as part of national security — singling out people who look Middle Eastern for special attention — I think of the 1987 film “Born in East L.A.”

In this film Cheech Marin (who was also the writer and director) plays Rudy, a native-born east Angeleno who got caught in an INS raid without his wallet (and ID) and deported to Mexico. Denied re-entry to the U.S., Rudy spends most of the film scheming to get himself smuggled across the border, and getting mixed up with some con artists, hustlers, and the inevitable pretty girl along the way. If you’ve never seen it, rent it sometime; it’s a hoot.

Anyway, in one particularly brilliant segment Rudy is given the task of teaching English to a group of men planning to enter the U.S. illegally. The men turn out to be Chinese. Instead of English, Rudy teaches them how to pass for Latinos — how to walk, dress, watch girls, etc. And the funny thing is that it works; the Chinese fugitives are transformed into completely believable Latinos.

Years ago a Chicano friend (whose grandmother was Huichol) complained he often was mistaken for an east Indian by east Indians. And a Filipino co-worker once showed me a photograph of himself costumed in a Mongol-style helmet and chain mail. You would have sworn he was Genghis Khan.

Remember Jean Charles de Menezes? He was the Brazilian shot and killed on July 7 last year because London police mistook him for a Middle Eastern terrorist.

I bring this up because today the righties are cheering the mostly British passengers of Monarch Airlines Flight ZB 613 — departing Malaga, Spain, and flying to Manchester, UK — who mutinied because two (presumed) Arabic men were boarding. Passengers walked off the plane or refused to board entirely. Police eventually removed the two men so that the flight could take off (three hours late) without them. A security sweep of the plane found nothing amiss, and the two men eventually were cleared by security and flown to Manchester in another plane.

Captain Ed:

The incident shows that citizens will start imposing their own solutions to flight safety in the absence of demonstrably intelligent security while attempts at attacks continue … the unwillingness of the governments in both the UK and the US to provide systems of screening that instill confidence in the flying public has led to these incidents. They will continue and increase while screening systems insist on playing political correctness games instead of focusing on real threats as the Israelis have done for decades.

Other righties point out that the passengers were alarmed by the two men’s behavior, not their race, which was the same thing the London police said last year about Jean Charles de Menezes. This odd behavior was that they were speaking a foreign language (presumed Arabic, but the Daily Mail doesn’t say for sure) and wearing leather jackets in summer (London police also claimed Jean Charles de Menezes was wearing an “unseasonably thick jacket,” like the one I wish I had when I was riding around London on the top deck of a sightseeing bus last August; I was freezing). And the two guys were checking their watches. Like no law-abiding citizen ever checks his watch while waiting to board a plane.

So to those passengers who claim they were judging the men entirely by their behavior, I say: Sure you were.

A few days ago I wrote some posts about James Fallows’s new article about U.S. security in the current issue of Atlantic Online, in which he wrote:

“The patriotism of the American Muslim community has been grossly underreported,” says Marc Sageman, who has studied the process by which people decide to join or leave terrorist networks. According to Daniel Benjamin, a former official on the National Security Council and coauthor of The Next Attack, Muslims in America “have been our first line of defense.” Even though many have been “unnerved by a law-enforcement approach that might have been inevitable but was still disturbing,” the community has been “pretty much immune to the jihadist virus.”

Something about the Arab and Muslim immigrants who have come to America, or about their absorption here, has made them basically similar to other well-assimilated American ethnic groups–and basically different from the estranged Muslim underclass of much of Europe. … most measures of Muslim disaffection or upheaval in Europe–arrests, riots, violence based on religion–show it to be ten to fifty times worse than here.

See also this article in the National Catholic Reporter of January 14, 2005, that says American Muslims are remarkably law-abiding and are not providing a base of support for jihadists.

Muslims in Europe are another matter. Back to James Fallows:

The difference between the European and American assimilation of Muslims becomes most apparent in the second generation, when American Muslims are culturally and economically Americanized and many European Muslims often develop a sharper sense of alienation. “If you ask a second-generation American Muslim,” says Robert Leiken, author of Bearers of Global Jihad: Immigration and National Security After 9/11, “he will say, ‘I’m an American and a Muslim.” A second-generation Turk in Germany is a Turk, and a French Moroccan doesn’t know what he is.”

Alex Massie writes for The New Republic online:

The challenge of assimilation in Great Britain is daunting. A recent opinion survey of Muslims carried out by Channel 4 News concluded that just 44 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds feel Britain is their country, and 51 percent of them believe September 11 was the result of an American-Israeli conspiracy. Furthermore, 30 percent of British Muslims would like to live under sharia law, and 28 percent would like Great Britain to become an Islamic state. These findings, alas, cannot be considered the result of a rogue poll. A Pew Research Center survey this year found that 81 percent of British Muslims consider themselves Muslim first and British second. As Timothy Garton Ash noted in a prescient piece in Thursday’s Guardian, “This is a higher proportion than in Jordan, Egypt or Turkey, and exceeded only by that in Pakistan (87%).” No wonder the Channel 4 pollsters concluded that nearly one in ten British Muslims “can be classified as ‘Hardcore Islamists’ who are unconcerned by trifles like freedom of speech.”

What’s baffling about the alienation of British Muslims is that the British government has done more than most European governments to help Muslims assimilate. Further, British Muslims enjoy greater economic and educational opportunity than in some other European countries. Yet, as noted in the Guardian article, not only are British Muslims alienated, young British Muslims born in Britain seem more alienated than their immigrant parents.

The writer of the Guardian article, Timothy Garton Ash, speculates that, maybe, it has something to do with the fact that most British Muslims trace their origins to Pakistan. Maybe it’s Tony Blair’s support for George Bush. Maybe it’s the libidinous nature of British society (more so than the rest of Europe?). Maybe it’s all of those factors.

What Ash doesn’t say, but which the killing of Mr. de Menezes and the mutiny on Flight 613 reveal, is that British Muslims may be swimming against a strong but unacknowledged current of bigotry. Go here for more examples. The Brits may have entered into an unfortunate spiral in which terrorist acts of a small minority of Muslims incite bigoted reactions from “native” Brits, which in turn causes British Muslim youth to feel more alienated and more likely to be radicalized.

I say that if we listen to the hysterics and hate-mongering from the Right, we could find ourselves traveling down that same spiral.

One hears calls for “Israeli-style profiling.” I’m no expert, but it’s my understanding that Israeli-style profiling is more psychological profiling than ethnic profiling. According to this guy:

El Al’s passenger screening system, established in the early 1970s, relies on psychological profiling techniques backed up with high-technology equipment. This system has been highly effective: the last successful hijacking of an El Al jet was in 1968, when Palestinian terrorists diverted a flight from Rome to Algiers.34 Whereas the United States gives priority to screening baggage rather than people, Israel’s security model aims at ferreting out individuals with terrorist intentions. This profiling process relies on access to intelligence and careful observation of would-be passengers.

Note that these observations are made by people trained to catch revealing behaviors; not by bigoted passengers who panic when a man speaks Arabic (maybe) and checks his watch. And it would be pretty futile to single out ethnic Middle Easterners when you’re in the Middle East, I suspect.

I also agree with this blogger:

Israeli profiling is the very last line of defense. The first line of defense is a well-run intelligence service that has been penetrating Palestinian militant groups for years. Second is a series of checkpoints, roadblocks, and a wall. Finally, there’s a broad set of people trained to look for suicide bombers.

The blogger is not confident that U.S. airport personnel would be competent to carry out psychological profiling, and profiling done by improperly trained people is nothing but “security theater.” There are a great many other things we should be doing to improve airport security, he says, before we start profiling.

Every now and then some rightie will wonder why New York subway security doesn’t single out Middle Eastern persons for backpack searches. I always want to take the rightie by the hand and gently lead him to, say, some high-traffic spot in the Union Square subway station, and tell him to point out all the subway passengers who might be Middle Eastern. Eventually it should dawn even on the densest of righties that a majority of the thousands of people he sees might be Middle Eastern. It would be a lot easier to single out those passengers who definitely are not Middle Eastern, and even then he most likely would make some mistakes.

And if your purpose is to identify Muslims, don’t forget there are African Muslims and Asian Muslims, and the occasional person of European ancestry who converts to Islam.

If airport and other security were to put people wearing Muslim dress through special security, it wouldn’t take long for the enterprising terrorist to figure out how to dress and act so as not to arouse suspicion that he is Muslim. He might even rent “Born in East L.A.” and get tips on passing as Latino. If Chinese can do it, becoming Latinized should be a snap for a Pakistani.

Update: See Glenn Greenwald.

The blame lies not with those who entertain such fears, but with those who allow those fears to govern their conduct, and more so, those who purposely stoke and exaggerate those fears due either to their own fears and/or because doing so is to their advantage.

Update update: See also Scott Lemieux.

Shorter various blogospheric wingnuts: the government’s appalling lack of racism gives people no recourse but to take racism into their own hands.

Also also: Dave Johnson.


Here’s something I didn’t know, written by a Brit:

… we don’t really know America or Americans. This is because, overwhelmingly, the Americans we meet have passports; over 80% of US citizens, however, do not, and so have never travelled outside their own continent.

80 percent? Is it that high? Possibly. I would have guessed more than half, maybe 55 to 60 percent. On the other hand, my impression of Europeans is that they zip off to other countries as casually as a New Yorker goes to the malls in New Jersey.

This may help to explain the other unfathomable mystery of the US: why they developed their own national participative sports, American football and baseball.

Association football has, of course, been growing in popularity in the US. But think what an impact it would have if football were the national sport and the US fielded a really strong side for the World Cup. It could do more to end US isolationism than a thousand politicians. …

I think he’s right. I also think our isolationism and ignorance of the rest of the world is going to be our undoing. Or part of our undoing, anyway.

Identity Crises

I spent part of a day in London last summer, about six weeks after the 7/7 subway bombings. I was fresh back from an adventure safari into deepest Wales and was too tired to do much more in London than ride around in one of those double-decker tourist buses. But at least I looked at London, which provided an interesting contrast to New York City six weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

By late October 2001 New York City had begun to dismantle the thousands of shrines that sprang up after 9/11 and spread like kudzu over the sidewalks, lampposts, and scaffolding. Six weeks on, some shrines were entirely gone; others merely trimmed back. But in October 2001 the city was blooming with American flags. Rockefeller Center was an ocean of flags, and if you looked up and down Fifth Avenue you could see more flags than you could count, flapping away into infinite distance. It was quite a spectacle.

In London, the only visible remembrance of 7/7 that I saw was the lonely little sign in the photo at the top of this post. The only other clue that London had recently endured anything out of the ordinary was the tour guide’s cheerful announcement that the bus would not be stopping at Buckingham Palace for security reasons. I didn’t go to the subway stations associated with the 7/7 bombings (I considered it, but thinking of how tourists gawking at Ground Zero made me feel queasy, I decided — out of respect to London — to stay away). I assume there were flowers and signs and visible expressions of grief around those stations. But if so the shrines were confined to those stations and not drizzled liberally all over the bleeping city, as they were in New York.

Neither had London turned into a flag festival. In fact, I barely saw a Union Jack the entire time I was in Britain. Of course, the English flag is not the Union Jack, because that is the British flag. The English flag is the Cross of St George, which I understand is waved enthusiastically by soccer fans wherever an English team is playing. Perhaps the English are less given to flying national flags because they’re ambivalent about which national flag to fly.

By contrast, the Welsh fly their dragon flag from anything that will hold still for it. When you enter Wales by car you are greeted by a big, proud, dragon-festooned sign that says Croeso i Gymru — Welcome to Wales. They want you to know you ain’t in England any more, boyo. But when you drive into England from Wales you get no clue at all that you’ve crossed a border, except that suddenly all the road signs are entirely in English.

The English also seem a bit ambivalent about national anthems. “God Save the Queen” is the anthem of the entire United Kingdom, and since other parts of the UK have their own anthems, there is some controversy about whether “GStQ” is the proper anthem for English soccer matches. And if it isn’t, what is? I understand some English rugby teams have adopted “Land of Hope and Glory” as the English anthem, while others prefer “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” for some unfathomable reason. But soccer teams haven’t made up their minds. There is no official Scottish anthem, but the Scots unofficially have adopted “Flower of Scotland,” or sometimes “Scotland the Brave.” On the island of Britain only the Welsh are not at all confused about anthems; theirs is “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau,” diolch yn fawr iawn (thank you very much).

The difference in reaction to terrorist attack, New York v. London, might be explained by the larger magnitude of the New York attacks. Further, attacks on London from foreign enemies have not passed from living memory. I suspect Londoners born since the Blitz have absorbed the bombing of London into their national identity, and they are guided by that brave example. We Americans have no such collective memory to guide us. Even those of us who have heard of the War of 1812 may not be aware that the British captured and burned Washington, DC, in 1814. For us, that was too long ago to count. For most Americans, our invincibility from foreign attack is part of our national identity. The 9/11 attacks were not just atrocities committed by foreigners against our fellow citizens; they were a violation of our collective ego.

The London subway bombers, however, were British citizens. There’s another difference. But they were British citizens who did not define themselves as British, apparently.

English national identity may be going through a different kind of identity crisis. I suspect the English may be going through a deep, if subtle, re-evaluation of what it is to be English, especially as something distinct from being British. Or maybe not. It’s subtle, as I said.

Americans tend to use England and Britain as synonyms, as Shakespeare himself did in Richard II

    This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
    This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
    This other Eden, demi-paradise,
    This fortress built by Nature for herself
    Against infection and the hand of war,
    This happy breed of men, this little world,
    This precious stone set in the silver sea,
    Which serves it in the office of a wall
    Or as a moat defensive to a house,
    Against the envy of less happier lands,—
    This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

But the Celts, dug into Britain’s edges and highlands since the time of Roman and Saxon invaders, stubbornly refused to surrender their own unique identities. In recent years Wales and Scotland have won some degree of home rule, and the English gave up their centuries-long effort to eradicate the Welsh language, allowing Wales to be officially bilingual. In effect, Scotland and Wales have demanded recognition as British, but not English, and England has agreed.

Now there is an English Question. The devolution of Britain’s old centralized government now allows the Scots and Welsh some say-so over matters specific to Scotland and Wales. But what about England? As Tony Wright observed, matters now decided by the Welsh Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament for Scotland are decided by the British Parliament for England.

Those who warned that devolution to Scotland and Wales would trigger the break-up of Britain have turned out to be emphatically wrong. Those who argued for devolution as a means of keeping the British project up and running have been no less emphatically vindicated. Yet it has, ineluctably, also created the English Question, and it is to this that attention now has to turn. The future of Britain, and of Britishness, may well depend on whether we can find a convincing answer to it.

It is reported that Scottish Labour MPs decided not to sign up to the parliamentary rebellion against the Government’s education white paper because it would draw attention to the anomaly of Scottish MPs deciding on education in England when English MPs have no say on education in Scotland. In fact of course it did precisely the opposite, especially as abstention of view was not intended to be translated into abstention of vote. Similarly, the smoking ban in England was voted on by Scottish and Welsh MPs despite the fact that in Scotland and Wales the issue is a matter for devolved decision.

I’m not aware that the English are pushing for home rule for themselves. The oddness of this may be apparent to everyone but the English. Maybe centuries of seeing themselves as the lords and rulers of all of Britain have left them thinking of Scotland and Wales as relics of history, or vestigial organs — sort of the way non-native Americans think of Indian reservations. As exemplified by the signs (or lack thereof) along the English-Welsh border, the Welsh are far more interested in the integrity of national boundaries than the English.

But now the English are asking, “Hey — where’s our national anthem?” Did they not notice this void before? Is noticing the void now a signal that the English are re-defining themselves vis-à-vis the Welsh and Scots? And if so, will “Welcome to England” signs someday be posted along the roads leaving Wales?

The matter of racial minorities in Britain complicates the identity thing even further. I haven’t spent nearly enough time in Britain to fully understand where the Brits are with this. My impression is that, while most Brits are determined to put on a tolerant face, there’s some racism bubbling under the surface. For example, during the Welsh safari I was told that some English people are buying homes in Wales because Wales is still mostly white.

Yes, but it’s still mostly white for the same reason the Ozarks are still mostly white — a shortage of good jobs and other economic opportunities. Centuries of low status have left Wales still beautiful, but poor. Like the Ozarks, it’s not a place large numbers of people move to; if you live there, chances are you were born there. If racial identity could so override national identity and cause an English person to move in with the poor cousins, among whom “you’re acting English” is an insult — how ironic is that? And isn’t it interesting how we seem to have layers of identities, and that we push one forward and pull back another, depending on circumstances?

And yes, I realize I’m leaving Northern Ireland out of this discussion. That’s a whole ‘nother level of complication that could add several feet to the length of this post.

I started musing about the English because of this post by Michelle Malkin, who in her artless way managed to turn a remembrance of 7/7 into a smear of the British. Brits are not nearly hateful or intolerant enough to suit Malkin. The Unhinged One links to this op ed in the Washington Times by Diana West, who is disturbed because an entire 13 percent of Britain’s Muslim population believe the 7/7 suicide bombers should be considered martyrs.

And, apparently, some among this 13 percent are not shy about expressing their opinions. West quotes one of these, Anjem Choudary:

“Who says you own Britain, anyway?” Mr. Choudary replied. “Britain belongs to Allah. The whole world belongs to Allah … If I go to the jungle, I’m not going to live like the animals, I’m going to propagate a superior way of life. Islam is a superior way of life.”

Offensive, yes, but I don’t see a big distinction between Mr. Chaoudary’s attitude and that of many of the Christian Right who live among us here in America. They all disgust me, yet if I make faces at the Christian Whackjobs I’m a Bad Person, according to the righties.

Malkin and West are angry that Brits permitted Chaoudary and others to demonstrate outside the Danish Embassy during the recent cartoon war, and that British police protected the demonstrators from violent reprisal. The demonstrators had to be protected because they carried signs praising both the 7/7 and 9/11 terrorists. West writes,

Hundreds of demonstrators marched through London, praising the 7/7 killers or calling for the murder of journalists who publish Mohammed cartoons. And the police stood by.

More accurately, they made sure the protest went off smoothly, as the Times Online reported. “People who tried to snatch away [the placards] were held back by police,” the newspaper reported. “Several members of the public tackled senior police officers guarding the protesters, demanding to know why they allowed banners that praised the ‘Magnificent 19’ — the terrorists who hijacked the aircrafts used on September 11, 2001 — and others threatening further attacks on London.” …

… The “Newsnight” show on which Mr. Choudary subsequently appeared included news footage of an English bobby vigorously silencing such a citizen, described as a van driver, who, according to the televised report, had angrily criticized the Muslim protesters. It is tragically enlightening.

“Listen to me, listen to me,” said the policeman, shaking his finger at the van driver. “They have a right to protest. You let them do it. You say things like that you’ll get them riled and I end up in [trouble]. You say one more thing like that, mate, and you’ll get yourself nicked [arrested] and I am not kidding you, d’you understand me?”

Van driver: “They can do whatever they want and I can’t?”

Policeman: “They’ve got their way of doing it. The way you did it was wrong. You’ve got one second to get back in your van and get out of here.”

Van driver: [bitter] “Freedom of speech.”

This vignette wasn’t law and order in action. It was desperate, craven appeasement. As the bobby put it, “You say things like that, you’ll get them riled.” And we mustn’t get them riled. Let Anjem Choudary and his band of thugs praise mass killings, threaten more attacks and advocate murder by beheading on London streets in broad daylight, but don’t get them riled.

Unfortunately, neither Malkin nor West spell out what they would have done in this situation. Would they have refused to allow the Muslims to demonstrate? That sets off all kinds of questions about when the government can stop demonstrations and when it can’t, and Malkin and West do not address those questions. Would they have had the police step aside and let the demonstration turn violent? What if the police stepped aside and people — Muslim and non-Mulsim — were killed? Would Malkin and West have been happy then? They don’t say. They don’t grapple with the hard issues. They just know that Muslims should not be permitted to do things that anger Malkin and West.

Muslims in America seem a lot more docile than Muslims in Europe. Is this because they are less angry than British Muslims? Or is it that they are more afraid of what might happen to them if they speak their minds? If the latter is true, what does that say about Americans? Does it say we are not “appeasers,” or does it say we have less respect than the Brits for freedom of speech? Does suppressing speech make the problem of Islamic extremism go away, or does it sweep Islamic extremism under a rug? What might happen if Muslim extremists demonstrated in New York City with signs that praised the 9/11 terrorists? Would the NYPD be able to keep the peace? Would the NYPD try to keep the peace?

And what are the 13 percent angry about, by the way?

According to this article in the June 22 Economist, Muslims in Europe are angrier than Muslims in America. The article poses various possible reasons for this. But this one was most intriguing to me (emphasis added):

Amid all the confusion, there is one clear trend among European Muslims. Islam is increasingly important as a symbol of identity. About a third of French schoolchildren of Muslim origin see their faith rather than a passport or skin colour as the main thing that defines them. Young British Muslims are inclined to see Islam (rather than the United Kingdom, or the city where they live) as their true home.

It does not help that all Europeans, whatever their origin, nowadays find themselves “identity-shopping” as the European Union competes with the older nation-states for their loyalty. No wonder many young European Muslims find that the umma—worldwide Islam—tugs hardest at their heart-strings.

Hmm, there’s that identity thing again.

We’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

Tracy Wilkinson of the Los Angeles Times writes that Europe is in an uproar over CIA operations on their turf.

From Scandinavia to the tropical Canary Islands, the CIA’s clandestine use of European soil and airspace for counter-terrorism missions is triggering outrage, parliamentary inquiries and a handful of criminal prosecutions.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, Europe was either silent about or unaware of the ways in which American agents operated within its borders. But in recent weeks several European governments have become much more vocal about alleged CIA activity in their jurisdictions.

Among the complaints: CIA operatives, without formal permission, have seized suspects in European cities and transported them to third countries for interrogation; CIA flights that have transported suspected terrorists around the world purportedly have used European airports for layovers; and the CIA may be operating clandestine prisons in Europe. …

…Two countries where some of the strongest evidence has emerged are Italy, where prosecutors are attempting to arrest 22 CIA operatives, and Spain, where officials have confirmed a steady parade of purported CIA flights into the nation’s airports.

In Germany, prosecutors are investigating both the alleged kidnapping by the CIA of one of its citizens and a number of suspicious flights into German air bases. Sweden and Norway launched investigations after similar incidents. The Dutch accused Washington of hiding its alleged use of secret prisons in Europe, and the 46-member Council of Europe told Romania to investigate reports that it was the site of such illegal detentions.

Investigations into alleged CIA landings or flyovers are underway in Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

The European Union said any of its members housing secret prisons for suspected Islamic terrorists, as first reported in the Washington Post, would be in violation of the law and subject to fines.

Wow, there’s no end to the stuff we can do to piss people off, huh?