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What Was Once A Nation: John Derbyshire On Derek Turner’s SEA CHANGES
Englishman Derek Turner is the editor of Quarterly Review, a transatlantic paleocon magazine with excellent articles on culture, history, and politics, and some contributor overlap with U.S. outlets like Chronicles, Taki's Magazine, and, yes, VDARE.com.
Sea Changes is Derek's first book. It is a work of fiction—a novel, written as a straightforward narrative in the third person. Its claim on the attention of VDARE.com readers is that it is a story about illegal immigration into Britain, and about contemporary attitudes to questions of nation, race, and liberty.
At the center of the story is a young Iraqi man, Ibraham Nassouf, born around 1979. Though drawn sympathetically, and obviously a decent sort, Ibraham is undistinguished and ill-educated, an observant but unreflecting Muslim—an Everyman, a traditional novelist's lay figure.
At age 12, Ibraham lost his father to one of Saddam's purges. After two decades of struggling to support his mother and sisters in Iraq, through the 2003 U.S. invasion and the years of turmoil that followed, Ibraham decides to head for England. Having no contacts in that country and no claim on a British visa, he must contrive to get smuggled in, after having first somehow traversed all the intervening countries.
Ibraham's odyssey across the Middle East and Europe forms a separate narrative thread for the first two-thirds of the novel, alternating with chapters set among English people in England. The two threads meet when Ibraham makes landfall on England's east coast. The concluding nine chapters of the novel deal with our hero's reception and settlement.
While Ibraham's adventures are described with realism and sensitivity, at its heart Sea Changes is a commentary on the ethnomasochism and corroded sense of national identity in today's England—and, by extension, in the West at large.
Most of the people we meet in the book are metropolitan media types, vain and shallow, their heads filled with the vapid cant of multiculturalism. They are contrasted with the very un-metropolitan Dan Gowt, a countryman of old English stock, farming on the east coast near Ibrahim's eventual landfall.
Like most normal people, Gowt has very little interest in politics. His daytime thoughts are about his farm, and to a lesser degree about his family and neighbors, country folk all.
Hearing that some black and brown corpses have been washed up on a nearby beach, Gowt joins a crowd of curious neighbors at the scene, and finds himself looking into a TV camera. In the ensuing interview, plain country speaking meets metropolitan sophistication:
"I've been told that they're all coloureds out there, you know—foreigners. Aliens, sort of thing. Sounds like they were trying to sneak into the country illegally. It's very sad, very sad. Poor people—poor, silly people." …
"Coloureds? Aliens? Sneak? Silly? you don't sound very sympathetic!" …
"Well, yes, but they're still breaking the law, aren't they? I mean, weren't they? …"
In no time we are off to the races, or rather to the witch-hunt, with the hapless Gowt as "racist" witch.
Turner unsparingly describes all the stupidity, dishonesty, intolerance, and cruelty of Political Correctness. He shows, too, how this foul ideology has distorted and corrupted all the institutions of England's civil society.
"You know, Mr. Gowt, none of this would have happened if you hadn't made those provocative comments in the first place. I have to tell you that you are lucky your comments have not been made the subject of a formal investigation—yet at any rate. We take these kinds of comments very seriously. The police service is committed to equality of access for all."
Parliament has been corrupted, too. The ethnonationalist National Union, an unsympathetic fictionalization of the British National Party whose Nick Griffin type leader is called James Fulford—no relation to our own dear James Fulford—has just one Member of Parliament. The "human rights" fascists and media leftists leverage the case of the dead illegals to get this solitary MP expelled, and his party banned from contesting future elections.
Turner has handled his material very well. He keeps his distance from the events he is describing; and, though his sympathies are obvious, never descends into didacticism or polemic. He has taken to heart Flaubert's great maxim: that the novelist in his works should be like God in the universe—everywhere present, but nowhere visible.
He is free of sentimentalism, too, though handling a topic that invites it. He understands, for example, that the traditional decency, forbearance, and puddingy anti-intellectualism of ordinary English people are fatal weaknesses in their current fight against totalitarianism—a fight they hardly know they are engaged in. Hearing on the radio of that MP's expulsion, Dan Gowt is disturbed, but not moved to action:
Obviously he had nothing in common with such extremists—but a democracy was surely a democracy. And if a parliament was not a place to express unpopular views, where was? He exhaled perplexedly; these things were so deep.
Turner is very good, too, at reproducing the language of the "diversity" commissars. We hear of "a UN emergency extra session on Euronativism" being held; of a rural clinic providing a prayer room for Muslim employees "because although they were not lucky enough to have any at present, they were seeking actively to redress this injustice"; of a slimy London newspaper reporter writing of feeling "depressed and defiled" at hearing Dan Gowt say that illegal immigrants should be repatriated.
Our author also has a satirist's ear for fashionable nonsense. At an ethnic-awareness function in Gowt's district,
There were ecumenical blessings by the Bishop of Eastshire and other faith-choice group leaders, including a moving message from the Chief Scientologist. There were speeches in Arabic, Punjabi, Urdu, Togolese, and Mandarin …
That Chief Scientologist is a masterly touch. Sea Changes is not a funny book, though, and certainly not a comforting one. The game is up, our author believes: England is lost. The crowing, sneering legions of cultural Marxism have won, and what was once a nation is now merely a place.
Not a very pleasant place, either, as Ibraham learns. Permitted to stay in England at last, unemployable (he speaks no English), housed in dingy lodgings under gray English skies, subsisting on vile microwaved food, he falls into homesickness.
He reflects on the solidarity and community of his neighborhood in Basra, and on the many kindnesses he received from fellow Muslims on his journey. The reader is left to imagine what escape Ibraham might find from his despair—into some death-worshipping Islamist sect, quite likely.
Some of the English, too, are unillusioned. After Ibraham and Dan Gowt, the book's next most sympathetic character is Albert Norman, a reactionary opinion journalist. Norman's weekly column has survived for years, thanks to reader support, in one of London's "conservative"—that is, one millimeter to the right of the cultural-Marxist center—newspapers.
Worn down by the multicultural idiocies and by countless murmured reproofs from the smooth-faced young fools who edit newspapers nowadays, Norman resigns at last.
Then, in the book's most poignant scene, one that might almost have come from Thackeray's pen, Norman glimpses a rival from another paper, a younger man much more in tune with the spirit of the age, sleek and prosperous, with a bimbo on his arm.
And these were only some of the most egregious members of the barbarian brigade—behind them stood thousands more automata waiting to be wound up and set in pointless play. It was always the same, probably would always be the same—the ordinary people outmaneuvered, the good causes subverted, the deserving and undeserving alike never getting what they really deserved.
I congratulate Derek Turner on having produced an excellent novel. It's too bad he didn't leave his reader clutching a few shreds of hope.
But then, there probably isn't any.
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimismand several other books. His writings are archived atJohnDerbyshire.com.
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