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Putting England Back Together Again

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Watching the riots in Britain's cities, I recalled visiting an English friend who ran a big company and had a country house grand enough to be called a "hall." (I will not disclose his identity.) Though hardly liberal, my friend was politically moderate. He was also a very decent person.

But one thing struck me as we motored around the perfected countryside of Essex, a smart-set county northeast of London. (Essex was the setting for the 1980s BBC series "Lovejoy.") Every tree-lined vista, village center and winding road radiated English loveliness. "Doesn't anyone around here fix transmissions?" I wondered.

Only when we had to go to a supermarket did I realize that he had created an inner GPS device that had eliminated a working-class reality from his field of vision. We were forced to endure the sight of ugly public housing and boxy stores selling cheap goods only because we had to buy groceries.

There were two Englands, even among the whites. Then, when mass immigration flooded low-income areas with nonwhite and Muslim populations -- often from conflicting cultures -- life on that side of the wall became far more complex. The riots in London and elsewhere were attended by both minorities and white, the poor and not-so-poor -- many of whom don't like living with each other. The government reacted with shock, but it shouldn't have.

"Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism," British Prime Minister David Cameron said back in February, "we've encouraged different cultures to live separate lives. We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values."

The New Yorker magazine recently reported on the English Defence League, a collection of largely (though not entirely) working-class whites demanding that Muslims leave Britain. They describe themselves as "a human rights organization" protecting the right "to protest against radical Islam's encroachment into the lives of non-Muslims."

The members are thuggish and often drunk, but not without a point of view, writes author Lauren Collins. Among other anti-social acts of violence, Muslim men in several cities have gang-raped white girls to show disgust with their "easy ways."

The English Defence League was formed after an obnoxious provocation in Luton, a factory town north of London: At a parade honoring British soldiers returning from Iraq -- two members of the regiment had died there -- a group of Muslim men held up signs reading "BUTCHERS OF BASRA" and "ANGLIAN SOLDIERS GO TO HELL."

The group's members are intent on dragging the nice England into their reality. "I want to get six lads, all with burqas on, to these fancy villages," EDL leader Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Lennon) told Collins. "We'll bring a CD player, blast the call to prayer, and then let's see how they feel. It don't matter when it's down in the rough old Luton."

Cameron has asked Bill Bratton -- transformer of police departments in Boston, New York and Los Angeles -- to help restore order. Bratton is famous for his "broken windows" policy, whereby police arrest not only bank robbers but public drunks, pushy panhandlers and sprayers of graffiti. Crime rates plummeted in the toughest neighborhoods as a sense of order returned. The take-home: The same rules should apply to all parts of town.

During the riots, owners of pillaged shops in the ravaged areas bitterly complained that the authorities would never have tolerated such widespread lawlessness in the posh precincts. They were right. And if Britain is to restore some sort of social cohesion, it will have to decide what its culture is and enforce one set of behavioral standards for both the fancy villages and the rough old Lutons.

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