Imagine: scouts burst into Queen Elizabeth I’s throne room. ‘Your Majesty,’ they pant, ‘the Spanish have sent an armada to destroy the government and impose their religion on England! What shall we do?’ An impertinent Sir Francis Drake leaps to his feet and cries, ‘My Queen, I shall take command of every vessel in England and defend your happy realm from the invaders.’ The court looks to the Queen, who says nothing. ‘Your Majesty?’ the scout whimpers. Elizabeth slowly turns to the court musician, who’s idly strumming his lute. ‘Mister Wiggenbottom,’ she says, ‘you’re to take three hundred of the finest minstrels in all the kingdom and go south. When the Spanish armies disembark, play Greensleeves for them.’ ‘Your Majesty,’ Sir Francis interjects, ‘I hardly think—’ She shakes her head. ‘You have your orders, Gentlemen.’
At last, the Spanish arrive. With trembling hand, Mr Wiggenbottom gives the signal, and the minstrels strike up the tune:
Well, I will pray to God on high,
That thou my constancy mayst see,
And that yet once before I die,
Thou wilt vouchsafe to love me.
The Duke of Medina-Sidonia steps off the flagship, a single manly tear rolling down his cheek. ‘My Lord,’ his lieutenant whines, ‘the men will not fight.’ The Duke listens a while and shakes his head. ‘No, they won’t.’ He turns smartly on his heels. ‘Everyone, back aboard. We return to Spain.’
When the Duke gives his report to Philip II, the king is overwhelmed. He looks wistfully out the window and strokes his magnificent beard. ‘A people with music in their souls,’ he sighs, ‘will not be broken with steel and shot.’ He rests his lordly hand on the Duke’s shoulder. ‘You’ve done well, Man.’ Then, to his page: ‘Write to the Queen. We will have peace.’
Of course, that’s all so absurd it’s not even satire. (Yes it is – ed.) If some two-bit novelist tried to pass it off as an ‘alternate history’, you’d read it and say, ‘Well that’s effing stupid’ and toss it in the bin.
Yet, during live coverage of the terror attacks in England, news channels switched between scenes of police cordoning off London Bridge and technicians preparing for the ‘One Love Manchester’ benefit concert. It’s another one of those ridiculous tropes surrounding our (non-)response to jihadism that’s now so commonplace it’s not even funny. Remember when John Kerry flew James Taylor to France so he could sing ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ after the 2014 Paris attacks? Isis dispatches its suicide bombers, and we cry, ‘Send in the minstrels!’ Mind you, this isn’t even Vera Lynn we’re talking about. Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber are headlining the concert. Whose morale is that supposed to boost?
This really is a surreal age we live in. The truism that ‘those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it’ doesn’t even apply anymore. You don’t need any formal education to see that we’ve completely lost the plot. Good ol’ common sense would suggest that, when someone’s decided to kill you, you have to kill them first. Want to benefit Manchester? Kill Isis. Avenge the dead. Make sure no innocents ever fall at the hands of a jihadist ever again. Nothing in the human experience suggests that oom-bop-bop good vibrations will keep us safe from Islamist terror. Still, that’s our weapon of choice. We’ll see their AK-47 and raise them an Auto-Tune.
Yet to even call our response irrational is too weak. This is something deeper. We seem to have lost our survival instincts. Unbelievable as it may seem to you or me, there really are people out there who can accept terrorism as ‘the new normal’. (Malcolm Turnbull being one of them, having said after the London Bridge stabbings that this is ‘the new reality we live with’.) There are folks who really do worry more about an ‘Islamophobic backlash’ than they do about 22 dead in Manchester and at least six in London. Right now, the United Kingdom should be white-hot with righteous fury. They should take to the streets, demanding their government hunt down every beast culpable in the destruction of these innocent lives. More likely, though, is ‘One Love London’. Maybe they can get Sir Elton John to play ‘Tiny Dancer’. Wouldn’t that be cute?
Most disturbing of all, though, are those who sincerely believe the terrorists win if we’re afraid – if we let them stop us from going about our lives as though nothing’s out of the ordinary. These are the people who recognise the existential threat facing the West and yet refuse to respond. They know we’re at war, but they’re too cowardly or stupid or lazy to mobilise. They see the horde charging over the horizon, shrug, and go back to playing with their phones.
This is why I really do think the West is doomed. We don’t want to live, and nothing that’s happened in the last decade suggests that will change. The Netherlands chose Rutte over Wilders, and France chose Macron over Le Pen. Theresa May has consistently proven as weak as that doughy, greenie-cyclist-followed-by-a-limo David Cameron. Even Trump is pinching Tony Abbott’s lame shtick. ‘Terrorists do not worship God. They worship death,’ he told the Saudis, i.e. the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorists.
I’d say ‘God help us,’ but He only helps those who help themselves. And we’re resolved to do no such thing.
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