A Friendly Warning
Melanie Phillips on London's identity crisis.


“Britain is in denial. Having allowed the country to turn into a global hub of the Islamic jihad without apparently giving it a second thought, the British establishment is still failing even now–despite the wake-up calls of both 9/11 and the London bomb attacks of 2005–to acknowledge what it is actually facing and take the appropriate action.” So writes Melanie Phillips, columnist for London’s Daily Mail, in her new book, Londonistan, released today.

Phillips talked to National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez about her hometown and the problems of America’s principal ally in the war on terror.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: So “Jews, don’t consider London a top vacation spot” is what you’re saying?

Melanie Phillips: Britain certainly isn’t a very comfortable place for Jews right now. It’s not that there’s a serious physical risk; even though there’s a relatively high level of attacks on Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, it’s still overwhelmingly likely that Jewish visitors to London or elsewhere in Britain would encounter no violence. It’s more on the intellectual and social level that you feel it. If you read the mainstream media, watch or listen to the BBC, go onto campus, or attend dinner parties, you come up against the demonization and delegitimization of Israel, along with breathtaking assertions about how the international Jewish conspiracy has hijacked U.S. foreign policy, which would have been simply unthinkable a few years ago.

Lopez: Zacarias Moussaoui’s mother has said that “Life in London made my boy a terrorist.” Does she have a point?

Phillips: Absolutely. Leave aside the self-serving nature of her remarks–it seems that Moussaoui’s family background was hardly stable and loving–I expect she’s right that it was his experience as a student in London that radicalized him. What’s so astounding is that from the 1990s onwards, the British political and security establishment simply turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the substantial network of radical Islamists who were preaching hatred of the West and recruiting for the jihad. As long as they believed–erroneously–that these people posed no threat to Britain itself, the authorities ignored them. But all the time they were steadily radicalizing impressionable young Muslims.

Lopez: Is there any sense of British nationalism/culture being taught in British schools? I remember spending an entire year on British literature in a New York City high school. Is that kinda thing a multiculturalism no-no in London today? How prohibitive is tolerance in the classroom?

Phillips: For three decades and more, the British education system has stopped transmitting the story and values of the nation on the grounds that national identity is racist, xenophobic, inhospitable, and so on. So English literature and, even more so, British political history are only minimally taught. If anything is racist, of course, it’s that attitude itself because it means that recent immigrants are excluded from equal participation in British society because they are left in ignorance of it. Britain used to do integration; now it does disintegration. In every sense.

Lopez: This was no quick thing for London. When did the conversion, so to speak start?

Phillips: Well, it depends how far you want to go back! Certainly this process of multiculturalism, minority “rights” that beat up the majority through “victim culture” and the loss of faith in the nation and its values that these and other examples of cultural breakdown represent, got going in a serious way directly after the Second World War and the winding up of the British Empire. But I think you can trace it all much further back, to the loss of religious faith in the 19th century and the rise of romantic hyper-individualism which had an impact in the U.S. too–Britain’s education meltdown, after all, derived from the “child-centered” theories of the American educationist John Dewey–and which you can trace back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century.

Lopez: How bad are the imams in London?

Phillips: The problem is not just in London; “Londonistan” is a phenomenon which has taken root in other parts of Britain too. I don’t think anyone knows how many imams are preaching extremism, which in itself is alarming. Some are; others aren’t. But it’s not just the imams; a lot of the radicalization is being perpetrated by people like youth workers or community activists working on campus and elsewhere below the official radar.

Lopez: Where are the moderate Muslims in London and what do they think of the situation there?

Phillips: There’s an increasing number of truly moderate Muslims who are deeply aghast not only at the extremists within their own religion but at the British establishment’s strategy of appeasing them which is cutting the ground from underneath the reformers’ feet.

Lopez: After the London bombings last summer, St. Paul’s Cathedral almost invited the families of the bombers to a memorial services? Are you kidding?

Phillips: Afraid not; all too true.

Lopez: How much are Christian leaders to blame for Londonistan? How much the government?

Phillips: The government is very much to blame because it denied the significance of what was going on and allowed it to grow under its nose. Amazingly, even since the London bombings last July the government and the security establishment still refuse to acknowledge the religious nature of Islamist terrorism. The thinking goes: Al Qaeda bad, Muslim Brotherhood not so bad; indeed, we can use the Brotherhood to divert young Muslims away from terrorism! This is called British sophistication.

The Church of England, in line with its principled position over the past several decades in supinely going along with moral and cultural collapse, is on its knees before terror. It regularly demonises Israel for defending itself, while uttering not so much as a peep of protest at the persecution of Christians by Muslims that is going on across the world. This all encourages the morally inverted thinking which holds that “Islamophobia” is the real problem rather than Islamist extremism, and turns the roles of victim and victimizer on their heads.

Lopez: How is Londonistan a threat to Americans? More Richard Reids in waiting there?

Phillips: Maybe; who knows? But I think the danger is more subtle. Some of the things that are going wrong in the U.K. are true for the U.S. too–the obsession with minority rights, for example, or the excessive reluctance to interfere with religion. If Britain sleepwalks into cultural oblivion, this may strengthen these tendencies in the U.S. too. After all, Britain was the originator of the concepts of liberty, democracy, and the rule of law. If Britain now unravels the values that underpin them, the consequences will be incalculable throughout the free world.

Lopez: Britain, of course, has been a key ally of the U.S. in the war on terror. That make us delusional?

Phillips: No, because under Tony Blair it has indeed been such an ally. The question, however, is whether–given the kind of things I’ve been talking about, and the associated widespread animosity in towards the US and the war in Iraq–it will remain as staunch as it has been when Mr Blair steps down as Prime Minister.

Lopez: How does Tony Blair rate in contributing to Londonistan? His wife hasn’t been a great help, has she?

Phillips: Cherie has certainly said some, er, unfortunate things about her sympathies for suicide bombers. I think Tony Blair personally does now understand the nature and extent of the threat of radical Islamism, and yet he has been unable to get the British establishment to take the same view.

Lopez: As Americans debate immigration, what would you highlight from London by way of lessons?

Phillips: Well U.S. immigration, despite all the controversy over it at present, is different in that Hispanic culture is not so very different from that of the host society. However, I think the general lesson is that, where people need to be integrated, this becomes very much more difficult if the numbers are too large.

Lopez: What’s your candidate for an American version? New York is too much of a melting pot, isn’t it? Windy Citystan?

Phillips: Doesn’t have quite the same resonance, does it?

Lopez: Is there a plausible turnaround option for London?

Phillips: Yes, if Britain (like the U.S.) grasps some time soon that it’s not enough to tackle terrorist cells producing bomb belts and poison laboratories, but we have to tackle also the lies and hatred that are inside people’s heads.

Lopez: When are you moving?

Phillips: What, and desert the battlefield?

Lopez: Does the post-election shakeup last week help any?

Phillips: Jack Straw’s removal as foreign secretary was a relief to all who are not over-keen on appeasing the Iranian regime; John Reid’s arrival at the Home Office offers the best chance that the political correctness that has that ministry by the throat might at last be prised off its windpipe. On the other hand, this was a shake-up of a government that is in turmoil, so maybe any hope of an outbreak of common-sense is premature.