Britain is in the midst of a breakdown. It comes from trying to live a double-life. As with everybody who leads such a life, at some stage it will inevitably crack under the stress of its own contradictions.
Take just one day's worth of news on the BBC website this past week. On one side of the page was the headline: "Tory candidate quits over homophobic and anti-Islamic tweets." On the other side of the page was a headline about the alleged Islamist take-over of schools in Birmingham and the North of England.
The first article involves a council candidate who retweeted several tweets that someone could potentially have deemed offensive. As usual in modern Britain, the likelihood is that nobody actually did find them offensive, but that someone decided that someone else might find them offensive, and therefore decided to get rid of the culprit. For what it is worth, the "homophobic" tweet consisted of a lame joke asking: "How CAN a gay guy keep a straight face?" Not the best gag in the world, but sure as anything not the precursor to some anti-gay pogrom, nor, in any sane society, a matter to cause a resignation.
But then of course we get to the far more serious matter of a tweet which might be regarded as being (cue drum roll) "anti-Islamic." This tweet cited the arrest of four Muslim men over the rape of a girl of 14. It then added, in its entirety: "#Islam 'the religion of peace' & rape." Not perhaps the wisest thing for a man elected to be a candidate for a council position just two days earlier to have tweeted. But was it really worthy of him immediately apologizing "for the real offense caused" and stepping down from the election, saying, "I recognise that someone standing for public office should show leadership and seek to unite communities, not divide them. I hope the residents of Brentwood South can forgive my lack of judgement in time."
The darkly amusing thing about all this was that on the opposite side of the page ran the story about the apparent attempt by certain fundamentalist Muslims to take control of schools in the north of England. This most certainly appears like a story of a group of people very much intent on causing division. Indeed it is the story of people trying to divide our society along purely religious lines.
The scandal, which was thought at first to include only schools in the city of Birmingham, but has now spread to schools across the north of England, has been followed across the British press. The story -- known as the "Trojan Horse" -- concerns a letter of dubious authenticity purporting to discuss how to take over schools in England from within. This story has become one of the biggest scandals of recent months. An official investigation is underway, but already the press stories of what has apparently been going on at some of the schools in question is enough to have caused serious public concern.
There are accounts of schools where girls are being made to sit at the back of the class, of Christian children being left to teach themselves so that their teachers can concentrate on teaching Islam to the Muslim students. There are accounts of celebrated hate preachers who teach the stoning of gays and others they do not like coming to the schools to address children in assembly. The letter that spurred the investigation may or may not be true. But the stories coming out seem very much to be so and are worthy of investigation and comment. But that is exactly what is now being clamped down upon.
Most weeks in Britain there are stories like this. Sometimes they are about the teaching of extreme Islamic views at a school. Sometimes they are about British Muslims going to Syria and blowing people up with truck bombs. Sometimes the story is about Muslim men who, yes, are convicted of systematically raping young, underage, non-Muslim girls, and the general public then reads the story and the account of a judge saying during sentencing that the men chose their victims explicitly because of their ethnic and religious background.
And all the time, as these stories come out, instead of there being a fervent and growing desire from politicians and the general public to do something about these abuses, there is instead an attempt to stop any interpretation of the facts or even any dot-connecting over these messy facts. The stories are reported, but the facts on the ground continue. Instead of trying to tackle the problem, the decision appears to have been made that the general public, and certainly anybody wishing at any point to represent them, must never mention anything about all this. Other than to say that it signifies nothing and that there is nothing to see here.
It is the same most days. We are trying to live our lives in our nation while running two sets of accounts. On one side of the ledger -- as on the BBC page -- are the facts that are happening. On the other side is the recounting of punishments for those who have identified the facts. At some point, as I say, this will break down. At some point the two sides of our collective national life will inevitably meet. The sooner it happens, the better.