Politics & Policy

Losing Its Religion

London assimilates.

Londonistan By Melanie Phillips (Encounter, 200 pages, $25.95)

As the sentencing phase of Zacarias Moussaoui’s trial winds up in an Alexandria, Va., courtroom, Moussaoui’s lawyer, Gerald Zerkin, has attempted to defend the indefensible. Zerkin has explained how Moussaoui found himself in London studying at South Bank University, where he fell in with the wrong crowd–a radical Muslim crowd–and later conspired with al Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks.

It’s not in any way exculpatory, of course, but it’s true: What Moussaoui and a number of other al Qaeda operatives have in common is London, where many of them settled and fell under the influence of radical Islamism. Londonistan, the new book by British journalist Melanie Phillips, is a gripping account of how Islamism is taking control of Britain’s culture and institutions.

Phillips is critical of Britain and its refusal to address the growing problem of Islamism, which she defines as the “politicized interpretation of the religion that aims to Islamize societies.” Because of this, British identity is being “eviscerated.” The London bombings should have been a wake-up call to British authorities. Why, she asks, was nothing done to stop these radicals after Britain’s primary ally across the Atlantic was attacked by votaries of the very same ideology? How, in short, did London become Londonistan?

Owing to an influx of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, India, and other South Asian countries in the 1970s, Islam became “Britain’s second largest community of faith after Christianity.” With one of the world’s easiest systems of entry and asylum, Britain enabled those who wanted to disappear into it to do just that. And many of them are far from benign: According to Phillips, “up to 16,000 British Muslims either are actively engaged in or support terrorist activity, while up to 3,000 are estimated to have passed through al-Qaeda training camps . . . [and] almost a quarter of all terrorist suspects arrested in Britain since 9/11 have been asylum-seekers.”

The fad of multiculturalism has further enhanced the radicals’ cause. Any effort to defend the distinctness of British culture and values is thought to be an attack on minorities and multiculturalism. A “victim culture” has taken hold in Britain, whereby the minority refuses to be held accountable for its actions, claiming it is being subjugated by the majority. As a result, the majority is often the scapegoat. More often than not, the fear of Islamic terrorists is trumped by the fear of being labeled an “Islamophobe.” Phillips concludes that Britain is choosing the “path of least resistance” when it should, instead, be defending itself.

This noxious mix of a radical ideology and the desire to appease rather than stop radicalization has had serious consequences. British officials failed properly to appreciate the threat the extremists posed to their country: Over a decade before the London bombings, Osama bin Laden set up shop in London, establishing an office to transmit messages from various al Qaeda cells, recruit military trainees, and distribute funds. Both Richard Reid, the infamous shoe-bomber, and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the mastermind behind journalist Daniel Pearl’s murder, hailed from Britain. Yet officials seemed completely unprepared for British al Qaeda members to come home and carry out terror attacks on their own soil.

Phillips suggests that British officials were more focused on Ireland-based terrorism than on the Middle Eastern variety: They were never given the green light to shift their attention to the rise of radical Islamism. Also, the very idea that an extremist ideology could once more take hold of a society was assumed invalid after the end of the Cold War. But one of the main reasons for Britain’s inaction was the police force’s embrace of the victim-culture mindset: The fear of offending a minority group and being called bigots led them to back away from some necessary confrontations.

Phillips exposes breakdowns on every level–within the British government, intelligence community, and police force–in the effort to defend Western values. A startling number of British Muslims support Islamist extremism. Londonistan gives warning that if Britain does not change its pusillanimous ways, not just its national security but its national identity will be swallowed up by the Islamists. Phillips remarks that “a nation can fight to defend itself only if it knows what it is fighting for, if it is secure in its own values”; Britain should listen to her urgent message.

Erin Carden is assistant to the editor at National Review. She’s starting graduate work at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in the fall.

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