Exactly one century ago, the renowned British writer G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), called by his admirers the greatest writer and thinker of the 20th century, published a curious novel titled “The Flying Inn.” On the cusp of World War I, he imagined the Ottoman Empire conquering Great Britain and imposing Shariah law.
Chesterton rides this implausible scenario as a vehicle to ridicule progressivism — that same arrogant, “scientific,” top-down, and leftist approach to government that characterizes the age of Obama. “The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes,” Chesterton rightly explained, and “The Flying Inn” mordantly exposes their failings. Along the way, his vision of an Islamized sceptered isle has arresting features deserving celebration on its centenary.
Chesterton tells of a war in which “the greatest of the Turkish warriors, the terrifying Oman Pasha, equally famous for his courage in war and his cruelty in peace” wins a famous victory over British forces, leading to the occupation of England, to Turks taking over the constabulary, and the growing influence of an “eminent Turkish mystic,” Misysra Ammon, who argues for such Islamic customs as not eating pork, prohibiting representative images, taking one’s shoes off at the front door and practicing polygyny.
But the most prominent Islamic custom, and the one around which “The Flying Inn” revolves, is Oman Pasha’s decree for the destruction of vineyards and the banishment of alcohol. Lord Philip Ivywood, an eager, progressive dhimmi adept of Ammon, passed in 1909 a prohibition of alcohol, which allowed only minor exceptions: buildings with inn signs outside them (pending their universal disappearance) and two famous watering holes for (of course) members of Parliament, Claridge’s Hotel and the Criterion Bar. Otherwise, pubs served lemonade, tea and other of what Chesterton dubs “Saracen drinks.”
Taking advantage of the former loophole, a valiant Irish sailor and an English publican roll through the countryside carrying with them the sign of “The Old Ship” pub, a giant keg of rum, and a great drum of cheddar cheese. Their bacchanalian exploits, and Lord Ivywood’s growing fury, make up the bulk of this fantasy novel, culminating in an English revolt against Ivywood, against Londonistan, against the fez-wearing Turkish police force, and their teetotaler ways. Hating “the fact of being crushed by the weapons of men brown and yellow had made the English what they had not been for centuries.” Their heroic insurgency leaves Oman Pasha dead “with his face toward Mecca” and pubs reopening.
Although a challenge to read, this overdrawn narrative uncannily anticipates the left-Islamist alliance of our times, a phenomenon otherwise nearly invisible until the 1980s. Anticipating George Galloway and Carlos the Jackal, the lefty Ivywood called Islam a “great religion” and a “religion of progress.” He even appealed for full unity between Christianity and Islam, to be called “Chrislam” (a term actually in use in 2014), while a trendy parson wanted St. Paul’s Cathedral to sport “some sort of double emblem combining cross and crescent.”
We learn, amusingly, that Ivywood wrote a biography of the tyrannical Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II for the “Progressive Potentates” series, anticipating (among other books) Patrick Seale’s puff biography of Syria’s Hafez Assad. Today’s left finds excuses for female genital mutilation, and Ivywood abandoned Western girls abducted to Turkish harems on the grounds that “there should be no new disturbance of whatever amicable or domestic ties have been formed.” Echoing today’s liberals, he argued that Turkish women enjoy “the highest freedom” while belittling the lot of their British counterparts.
Likewise, Chesterton anticipated other themes then nonexistent and now in full bloom. Ivywood speculated about our own day: In “a century or two to come,” he said, “we may see the cause of peace, of science and of reform everywhere supported by Islam.” In this spirit, he advocated “Asia in Europe,” something that Muslim immigration has achieved.
The Turkish mystic Ammon promulgated “some fad about English civilization having been founded by the Turks [and] seemed to think that Englishmen would soon return to this way of thinking.” Indeed, it’s banal in 2014 to hear Islamists declaim how Muslims reached the Americas in the 10th century A.D., and that Islam had a leading role in the writing of the U.S. Constitution.
“The Flying Inn” memorably sketches out a preliminary, wild and weird picture of Islam in Great Britain, one far more real these days than when long ago published in a very different era.
Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum.