I've come to have a strange new pride in the American left's practice of flag-burning. This is not to say I like the practice. In fact, I think I'm with many Americans when I say that burning the American flag should amount to "fighting words" under the First Amendment. But, rather, the fact that burning the flag is considered fighting words by so many is a sign that the Stars and Stripes still arouses passion and meaning for all Americans. In other words, one could say flag-burning is a sign of cultural health. It's only when the people don't care about the flag at all that a country really gets into trouble.
That's what I've concluded after traveling around the United Kingdom recently. Large swaths of Britain - and certainly most of its elite - doesn't care much one way or the other about their flag. To listen to them talk about it, you'd think the Union Jack was little more than a bit of kitsch, the stuff of sno-globes and souvenir letter-openers.
I'm reminded of the line from Virgil's "Aeneid": "Like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood."
OK, I'm not really reminded of the poem itself so much as the now largely forgotten speech by the British scholar and - briefly - politician Enoch Powell, who, in 1968, recited the verse to suggest that Britain was heading down a path that could only lead to social division and multicultural chaos. Powell lamented the usual rogue's gallery of villains: runaway immigration, secularism, feminism, et al. His worry was that the new barbarians were tearing apart the institutions, values and norms that tend to hold a nation together.
Powell was denounced as a racist and something of a fool for his "Rivers of Blood" speech. But in 2005, as George Jonas notes in Canada's National Post, Enoch Powell is enjoying something of a revival.
From this American's perspective, the debate in Britain in the wake of the bombings - over Powell, immigration, Islam, "Britishness" and the rest - reveals the extent of this proud nation's problems, and to a certain extent, the profound decline of Britain.
Here, the only real debate about the British flag is whether it is in some way analogous to our own Confederate flag. Immigrants, schooled in the jargon of multiculturalism, complain that being "subjected" to the Union Jack in the workplace is a form of oppression and discrimination because it reminds them of colonialism or whatnot.
Meanwhile, the denizens of the new, "cool Britannia" have sullied one of the great "brands" in global culture. A few years back, the CEO of British Airways scrubbed the Union Jack from the entire fleet in favor of a hodgepodge of world-ethnic goo.