Parliament's enthusiastic approval of the bill on dual citizenship, the arrest of yet another London bombings suspect and the Irish Republican Army's promise to lay down arms all bear out Eric Hobsbawm's definition of the 21st century as the age of displacement. But if individuals seem more inclined to become footloose and fancy free, the nation-state is still firmly enough in place to resist displaced man's efforts to reinvent the alien society he adopts in the image of a mythic homeland that he carries in his heart and soul.
That conflict lies at the root of friction between host nations and Muslim settlers, from Singapore to France. It is fallacious to dismiss the London bombings as a manifestation of British resentment of Tony Blair's adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if the indigenous British felt strongly about their prime minister's overseas involvements, they would never have expressed their disapproval through explosions that killed 56 innocent people, injured more than 700, paralysed life, shattered confidence and cost them their own lives in the bargain. Since this is how enemies attack, a native British patriot might even be justified in adapting Dean Inge's Romanes lecture to read, 'Ancient civilisations were destroyed by imported barbarians, we manufacture our own from imported seed.'
Moreover, suicide as the ultimate form of protest ' the high suicide rate in some high-income Scandinavian states is only a matter of personal maladjustment, unrelated to any societal cause ' is also an essentially Oriental phenomenon. Western heroes and heroines sacrifice their lives ' like Nurse Edith Cavell in World War I ' in service to the nation, not in rebellion against it. But the East bristles with protest immolations and fasts unto death, for reasons that range from language to religion to women's right to work. The recent history of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, China and Iran provide many such instances. Sri Lanka and Palestine also provide examples of human bombs that would be unthinkable in the West.
The three London bombers who were born and brought up in Britain might have spoken English with the accent of the region they grew up in, never uttered a word of Urdu and even 'played good cricket' (So what' So does Sourav Ganguly!), but that did not make them British. It was not just the colour of their skin that ruled out complete assimilation, though that must have been a factor. More significantly, they carried within themselves an awareness of the self that is rooted in family, culture, lineage, everything that is bracketed under the label 'genes', bearing no relation to the sceptered isle to which their families migrated.
Western consciousness of the distinction between indigene and alien was evident when an American civilian airliner was hijacked in Pakistan. The initial report that the passengers were Americans created a stir in the US. But interest waned when it transpired that most were South Asians with American passports. But politically correct contemporary Britain is embarrassingly determined not to notice differences of race and colour which probably flatters visiting Indians and Pakistanis and consoles perpetually nervous first-generation immigrants. But the sheer artificiality must grate on sturdy young men who have grown up in a British milieu and want not assimilation but to transform the host country as the taliban did Afghanistan.
Nirad Chaudhuri warned long before Samuel Huntington came along of 'an irreconcilable antagonism between the non-European peoples who were formerly subject to European rule, and their one-time rulers, especially the British.' It is a historical fact, too, that life in Britain does not always make the Asian look with favour on the British, a fruit of residence and familiarity that India's British trained swarajists proved and Max Mueller deplored. Osama bin Laden's twist to the faith adds the burden of a demanding religion to the traditional burden of politics.
Put together, it would seem that the bombers, Pakistani in being and British only in the eyes of the law, were convinced that in killing themselves, they were punishing Blair's Britain for perceived crimes against Islam. Iraq and Afghanistan may have been the catalysts but, as true jihadis, they would have regarded Britain and the British as legitimate targets even without these provocations, just like the hijackers who attacked New York's Twin Towers. It says much for British forbearance and discipline that in spite of warnings and jeremiads the outrages did not provoke more of a white backlash. It would have been perfectly human to expect a furore against immigrants and far stronger calls for deportation amidst thundering declamations that Enoch Powell's apocalyptic vision of 'rivers of blood' had at last come to pass. Compared to the provocation, British nationalists have uttered not a squeak. Perhaps the liberal conscience of Britain does now accept that south Asians born and bred there are part of the natural scene, and that their sins are the sins of society as a whole.
But do they, one wonders, begin to understand even now the full measure of the challenge in their midst' Many of the Midlands areas inhabited by some 800,000 people of Pakistani origin are as different from what Britain was and should be as are the Bangladeshi and Indian ghettoes of Brick Lane and Southall in London. An added complication is that while exiled Bangladeshis and Indians have clearly defined national identities, Pakistanis have only their religion to fall back on. Beards, skullcaps and veils proclaim a different civilization.
This is where the linkage with non-resident Indians scattered about the globe comes in. The IRA connection is only incidental: it has been fighting for what it regards as home rule on home ground but the London bombings have driven it to peace initiatives lest it be branded with the same terrorist brush as the jihadis. Yet, in its own way, the IRA, too, is both cause and effect of one of the world's biggest displacements, accounting for a large proportion of Americans and for Australia's second biggest immigrant group.
But differing in one significant way from the other two communities, the Irish can even be called a peaceful force for the status quo. Except for demands concerning the six British-held counties of Ulster, they blend with the landscape wherever they settle, making no special demands on host governments. Not so NRIs who have now succeeded, by force of money, in one battle to eat the cake of citizenship and have it too, and are girding for other battles in Britain. Some Hindus there want the right to pollute country rivers with cremated ash; others are seeking a waiver of the English language test for priests for their ostentatious new temples. Predictably, Islamists have many more demands and press them with far greater vigour, recalling Winston Churchill's warning, 'While the Hindu elaborates his argument, the Moslem sharpens his sword.'
There are righteous demands in Britain for Friday closing and to purge school texts and canteen menus of anything that might be considered haram. That lovely old fable, The Three Little Pigs, for instance, is a target for extinction. Who knows but one day Britain's defining Protestantism, with the monarch as supreme governor of the Church of England, will also be denounced as discriminatory by Her Majesty's loyal Muslim subjects. For displacement makes the world the migrant's oyster; if a Muslim, he expects his land of adoption to conform to all his beliefs.
The July 7 bombings may have been a first, if deadly, blast of the trumpet announcing Islam's refusal to accept Aristotle's view that 'the citizen should be moulded to suit the form of government under which he lives'. On the contrary, it's the government that must now be moulded to suit the Muslim citizen. That could be the rough edge of the globalization that threatens established nation states, Christian, Buddhist or non-denominationally secular, in this age of displacement.