Politics & Policy

Getting Out of Londonistan

Can Mohammed Sarwar save us?

It is something about this time of year, perhaps, that brings the impulse to jihad to a boil in the British Isles. Almost exactly two years ago, I sat with hundreds of travelers in the airport at Edinburgh, Scotland, watching televised scenes of the horror unfolding hundreds of miles to the south in London. It was slaughter on the morning commute: dozens of Britons blown to bits in buses and on subways. Though we had no confirmation then of who perpetrated the bloody acts, it was easy enough to guess. And so it is easy enough to guess who is behind the multiple would-be car bombings in the United Kingdom now.

The killers of July 2005 succeeded where the would-be killers of June 2007 have failed — at least so far — but the latter have introduced a chilling new element into the pattern of terror with their assault on Glasgow’s airport. We were appalled and troubled in Scotland two years back, but we were not threatened. Now, with a fiery Jeep smashing its way through the façade of the Glaswegian passenger terminal, that fiction is stripped away. It doesn’t matter so much that the attack was unsuccessful: It is enough to show that no one is safe, and that terror is no longer restricted to the great cities and capitals.

We should qualify that statement and note that it is Islamist terror that has now spread beyond the London megalopolis. The United Kingdom suffered attacks from Irish republicans on its soil for decades. But this is not the work of the IRA or any of its offshoots; these young “Asians” (a term usually signifying Pakistani or Indian origin in British usage) are bringing acts of jihad to new places. The British government has linked the terrorists to al Qaeda, but this is an essentially meaningless link. What we knew as al Qaeda when al Qaeda was a definable hierarchy with Osama bin Laden at its apex is no more. In its place are a hundred cells and regional networks that take the name of al Qaeda, and perhaps swear fealty to the sheikh in his Pakistani hideout, but are otherwise freelance agents of violent Islamism.

Those agents are of necessity locals. As this decade enters its waning years, we can look back to the September 11, 2001, massacre and see that it was something of an operational anomaly, in that it was perpetrated by a purposefully imported team of jihadis. The al Qaeda attacks in the West since have, by contrast, been undertaken by mostly local residents who turned to Islam’s violent side as a reaction against what they perceived as a post-religious — and hence an anti-Muslim — society. From this we get the sad axiom of European security in the post-9/11 era: Any government that engages in policies disliked by masses of its own Muslims will probably suffer violence from some of those Muslims. Beyond the U.K., we see the bombings in Istanbul; the March 11, 2004, massacre in Madrid; the murders in the Netherlands; and, most troublingly, the de facto insurrections in French and Belgian cities over the past several years. The botched attacks of this past week in Britain are therefore of a piece, not just with recent British history, but with recent European history.

None of this is news, and none of it detracts from the surprise of an attempted attack in Scotland. But those few paying attention know that Scotland at large, and Glasgow in particular, have had problems with local Muslim radicalization for some time now.

The fortunes of Glaswegian Labor politico Mohammed Sarwar are illustrative here. The Pakistani-born Sarwar became the first Muslim elected a member of Parliament in 1997, representing a central Glasgow district — then as now the epicenter of Muslim settlement in Scotland. Sarwar himself was never a personal model of pluralistic democratic values: The Koran on which he took his oath to the queen was encased in an envelope so it would not have to be touched by infidel hands. But he at least represented Muslim Britons who participated in British institutions and laws. He fought incidents of arranged Muslim marriages in which the women did not consent; and to his enduring credit, he helped bring to justice the Muslim killers of a Scottish youth named Kriss Donald. In March 2004, the 15-year-old Donald was abducted, tortured, and killed, and three of his killers fled to Pakistan. Sarwar worked diligently to secure their extradition, and for his troubles, he was rewarded with all-too-plausible threats of death: “I was told they wanted to punish my family and make a horrible example of my son — they would do to him what they did to Kriss Donald,” he told the press. “I received threats to my life, to murder my sons, to murder my grandchildren.” And so, bowing to terror and threat, Sarwar announced in June that he would not stand for reelection, ending a parliamentary career that spanned a decade.

Yet for every Sarwar forced out of public life by Muslim violence, there is a Bashir Mann who abets that violence with apologetics and exploitation of claimed victimhood. Mann is the other face of Glaswegian Islam, and if his kind is not more numerous, it is certainly more powerful — not least because it is never targeted by the forces that threaten Sarwar. Like Sarwar, Bashir Mann is Pakistani-born, and also like Sarwar, he is a pioneer of Muslim participation U.K. politics. These days, the aging Mann serves in the leadership of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, and as president of the National Association of British Pakistanis. From these mediagenic perches he advances the perceived interests of his community. Lately, that has included defending the abduction of a 12-year-old Scottish girl named Molly Campbell, who was kidnapped by her father in August 2006 and taken to Lahore, Pakistan. The month before Campbell’s abduction, Mann declared a Muslim boycott of none other than the Glasgow airport, site of the recent terror attack, for its security personnel’s alleged special scrutiny of Muslim travelers. Oblivious to irony and impervious to introspection, Mann now appears in the British press averring that he hopes the perpetrators are not Muslim, because of course, that would only “add to the anti-Islamic atmosphere and Islamophobia.” Muslims trying to kill non-Muslims “could be very detrimental to the community relations [and] to the image of the Muslim community, not only in Scotland but the whole of Britain.” Indeed.

There is not a direct line from the expulsion of Mohammed Sarwar from public life, to the persistence of Bashir Mann in public life, to the men who tried to massacre Scots on travels at the Glasgow airport. But cause and effect need not be direct to be real. Two years ago, we felt safe in Scotland. Now we know that Scotland, like the rest of the West, is not safe. It is a hard lesson we should have learned long ago. The solution to the problem of Muslim minorities in the West must involve men like Mohammed Sarwar. They are imperfect, with their paper-wrapped Korans, but they at least mean well, and struggle toward a just coexistence. The alternative is Bashir Mann — and worse, the men for whom he provides social cover, who seek to kill in Islam’s name, and too often, unlike this week, do it well.

Joshua Treviño is the vice president for public policy at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, Calif. He has extensive professional experience in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

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