A country’s laws say much about its people’s character, though not in the way its lawmakers intend. Perhaps the oldest written law in English history, dating back to King Ethelbert of Kent, decreed strict punishments for anyone who attacked Church property, which suggested that either they were very pious folk or, more likely, quite a few people were stealing from churches.
The idea of sacrilege predates Christianity; in ancient Rome violence against some officials was punished more severely because their positions were sacred. The modern advent of hate crimes has reinvented this idea, with certain people granted protection because of group victim status, victimhood being the closest thing we now have to the sacred, offending someone’s identity a blasphemy.
So what do we make of proposals to provide extra legal protection to British soldiers because of the abuse they face in the street, an idea first suggested by Ed Miliband in May and repeated this week?
Why, future historians would ask, would men in British uniform need protecting? They may not find contemporary sources very helpful, since the British political-chattering classes are overcome with quietism when reality becomes too depressing.
Miliband earlier referenced Lord Ashcroft’s report, The Armed Forces & Society, which warned that soldiers quite often felt unsafe in uniform. Inside on page 20, it stated delicately: ‘A number of personnel described rather more mixed experiences of wearing their uniform in public, particularly in multicultural areas.’ It quoted an airman as saying: ‘Working in Leicester as a recruiter I make a point of walking to and from work in my uniform, and it’s still mixed. I have people running up and screaming “baby killer” at me.’
I don’t want to sound too much like Marvin the Paranoid Android here, but a society where wearing the uniform of the country makes someone a potential target has problems.
Labour just about feels comfortable discussing eastern European immigration, but won’t go near the more intractable social costs of the non-European immigration it encouraged (and policies that empowered radicals). As for the media, after Lee Rigby’s murder the vast majority of concern seemed to be about a few hooligans waving St George’s crosses, rather than the fact that a soldier had been murdered in broad daylight. Since then the government has set up an initiative to tackle Islamophobia by having Muslim soldiers visit schools, while of the far more acute problem of Muslim attitudes (the last I read, about one in seven supported violence against soldiers, although that was at the height of the Iraq War) the media and Government have nothing to say.
What will certainly not glue society together again are more laws, which is what Miliband is proposing by making anti-soldier discrimination (civilianism? soldierism?) a crime, and soldiers victims, the default solution to any problem these days. (Besides which, beheading someone in a street is already a crime, and quite a serious one the last time I checked.)
I hope all those Labour bigwigs who read Jesse Norman’s biography of Burke over the holidays have learned that laws alone cannot make a healthy, functioning society, but rather we need manners, customs and common tradition. But multiculturalism is a question of faith, not reason.