Wednesday, December 26, 2007


When Hector was a lad, a new scribe just learning to scratch a living with a quill, a chap called Enoch Powell was making a lot of noise about the long-term deleterious effects of immigrants to his country of residence, now known as the Disunited Kingdom.

Powell was an unlikely politician. He was a professor of classical Greek. He was a complex and driven man, someone who saw the benefit of deep and thoughtful argument, and the demerits of reducing every ‘issue’ – not then a term in wide currency, since English was straightforward in those distant days – to a mealy-mouthed but catchy sound-bite.

He didn’t understand, as that other famous demagogue Idi Amin of Uganda did and proved it by proclaiming himself King of Scotland, that if you don’t want to vanish with a kick up the bum, you’ve got to give the population something to hum.

Powell couldn’t set people a-humming to save himself. He was not cut out to be a populist. He preferred to create a low moan among the people with a dismal sermon from the mount. He liked to be a Jeremiah, to offer a dismal vision of ruin and damnation.

What set Hec’s mind thinking about Enoch and his Great Error of 1968 was a little item he read in the pre-Christmas British press, to the effect that Mohammed (or its variants) was set to become Britain’s most popular boy’s name within a year.

It seemed appropriate to consider this topic as Muslims marked the birthday of their prophet Isa al Mahdi, known to the Christian world as Jesus.

Hec knows lots of Mohammeds (and variants). They are remarkably well distributed in the Indonesian population, among whom he lives and finds great pleasure doing so, though not quite so ubiquitously in Hindu Bali, his actual location, where if you’re not Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut (or their variants) you’re not on the roll.

Errant Enoch, in his famous political suicide note of four decades ago, warned Britain of disaster if immigration continued at the proposed pace. He said he foresaw the River Tiber flowing with blood, etc. His commentary on the state of the entrails that he had purportedly examined and assessed, went down with his peers in the political world like an oyster in a Halal restaurant.

It was never quite clear, especially to young Hec when he was given the job of making a 400-word précis of Powell’s speech for the British newsagency for which he then toiled, why he had chosen a Roman allegory. As a Greek classicist, he would surely have been better to recall what happened to Socrates. When he wouldn’t stop banging on about things the Athenian elite preferred not to canvass, they poisoned him.

That’s not to say that Powell should have avoided the issue. If it worried him, he should have said so – and why. It’s just that he could never understand that he had got it so horribly wrong; that he had failed to comprehend that most people, of whatever provenance, only seek improved conditions for themselves – in this instance by migrating to Britain – within the unwritten rules of cooperation for mutual benefit that govern human interaction.

The Tiber has not run with blood, in Britain or elsewhere. The frictions in post-immigration Britain pale into insignificance compared with, for example, Wat Tyler’s rebellion or the Corn Law riots. Or very nearly the Jarrow March in the Depression years.

Most immigrants integrate – loosely or fully, according to taste, preference and, importantly, opportunity – and become functioning parts of their new communities. This is because they are people, another historical fact that somehow seemed to elude Powell.

In fact it is people like Powell - now dead of old age, not arsenic – who represent the dangerously Antediluvian rump of human society: them and people like spoiled little rich kids (Osama bin Laden comes to mind in that context) and scattered madmen or pathological self-victims.

Mohammed is a lovely name. It’s not a Christian name. But so what?

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