When I published my book Londonistan last year, I believed Britain was deeply in denial over the threat of radical Islamism. Today — six years after 9/11; two years after the 7/7 London suicide bombings; one year after the discovery of the al Qaeda transatlantic-airline plot; two months after the car-bomb attacks on a London nightclub and Glasgow airport — even with an apparently neverending procession of trials of British Islamist terrorists and with MI5 stating that it is monitoring no fewer than 200 U.K. Islamist terror groupings, 2,000 individual terrorists, and 30 known active major terrorist plots, Britain is still failing to acknowledge the true nature and scale of what it is facing and what needs to be done to counter it.
“Londonistan” was a term of abuse coined by the French for a Britain that had allowed itself, during the 1990s, to become the European hub of al Qaeda. To me, however, it’s also a state of mind — one in which people not only seek to appease but come to internalize some of the mindset of the enemy that intends to destroy them.
Despite a hardening of the public mood against Islamism, the British establishment is still sleepwalking toward cultural surrender. The essence of the problem is that although it understands it is fighting an unprecedented terrorist threat, it still does not understand the religious ideology driving the threat. It still believes, instead, the Islamist propaganda line that the root causes of jihadi terror are poverty, discrimination, or foreign policy — in other words, that terrorism against the West is the West’s own fault.
The good news is that the mood is beginning to change among British Muslims. Debate has been electrified by the decision of a few young Muslims to renounce Islamist radicalism. Accounts such as Ed Husain’s book The Islamist have blown apart all the usual excuses for Islamist terror. Husain said the cause was nothing other than religious fanaticism; and he called for Hizb ut-Tahrir — the jihadi organization to which he had belonged — to be banned.
Where these pioneers have led, others are now beginning to follow. Last week, Maajid Nawaz — a senior British member of Hizb ut-Tahrir who was jailed in Egypt for four years after being accused of reviving HuT there and plotting to overthrow the government — renounced that organization, having apparently concluded in prison that Islam had been hijacked by a political ideology.
Such developments are significant. Suddenly, British Muslims are beginning to realize that Islamism poses a dire threat not just to non-Muslims but to themselves. While many still remain far from moderate in many respects — and there are those in the West who blindly maintain that “moderate Muslim” is an oxymoron — such a movement toward the rejection of politicized Islam offers a ray of hope.
It would be the height of irresponsibility to ignore these steps by British Muslims down the difficult and perilous road they are gingerly exploring toward a possible accommodation between Islam and modernity. Every help should surely be given them in their quest to effect a Muslim reformation, however remote this possibility may currently seem.
So much for the good news.
The bad news is, in brief, that the British government is choosing to look the other way. It should be making it crystal clear that there is no place for Islamist extremism in Britain. Not only is it refusing to do so, however, but its response to Islamism remains one of appeasement. Although much about the new prime minister, Gordon Brown, remains studiedly ambiguous, the dynamic of British politics — with its visceral hostility toward Israel and America, and with Muslim voters steadily increasing their political influence — means he may yet put Britain and the West at even further risk.
Indeed, there are worrying signs that Brown will actually go further than the government has already gone in appeasing the Muslim lobby. He is refusing to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir — which is radicalizing countless young British Muslims, particularly on campus. He is refusing to ban the building of what is intended to be the largest mosque in Europe on the site of the 2012 Olympic village in east London — a mosque funded by the Tablighi Jamaat, said by the FBI and French intelligence to be the “antechamber to al-Qaeda” in Europe. And after the attacks on Glasgow airport and the London nightclub in the very week he took office last June, his government went out of its way not to refer to Muslims or Islamic terror but talked instead of “crime” by “communities.”
Whereas the Blair government finally started to treat the (supposedly representative) Muslim Council of Britain as the Islamist extremists that they are, Brown has brought them back in from the cold. Continuing to give such Islamists legitimacy builds them up and knocks the ground out from under those British Muslims trying to fight them. This has led to a ludicrous situation in which the government is being advised on how to counter Islamist extremism by people who are themselves part of the extremist networks. The government thinks that by tip-toeing around Islamist sensibilities it will encourage ordinary Muslims to cooperate with it; in fact, it is merely undermining the very people it should be supporting — those Muslims who are genuinely appalled by Islamism. Thousands of Muslims, for example, who live near the proposed Olympic mosque signed a petition against it on the grounds that it would radicalize their children. So far, they have simply been ignored.
Reformist-minded British Muslims point out that, although there are Islamic authorities that specifically allow Muslims in Britain to adopt mainstream British practices — such as eating non-halal meat, for example, or using ordinary mortgages — the British government has chosen to assume that the divisive strictures of Islamism brook no argument. It has thus chosen to accommodate an agenda that explicitly sets out to replace Western law and values with Islamic ones.
Accordingly, far from resisting the encroachment of Islamic sharia law, Britain is allowing the development of an Islamic state within a state. It now has “sharia-compliant” mortgages, with a policy to make London the center of global Islamic banking — even though such banking is controlled by Saudi Wahhabis, who will use the money to further radicalize British Muslims and Islamize Britain. Some local education authorities are serving halal meat to all pupils. A blind eye is turned to polygamy, cousin-marriage, and the forced marriage of young teenage girls.
Moreover, Britain is still doing next to nothing to stop the propagandizing for holy war. A recent report by the Centre for Social Cohesion — a London think tank — revealed that public libraries are stocking hundreds of Islamic books glorifying acts of terrorism against followers of other religions, inciting violence against anyone who rejects jihadist ideologies, and endorsing violence and discrimination against women.
And last week, the London Times reported that almost half of Britain’s 1,350 mosques are under the control of the hard-line Deobandi sect whose leading preacher, Riyadh ul Haq, loathes Western values and has called on Muslims to “shed blood” for Allah. He heaps scorn on any Muslims who say they are “proud to be British” and argues that friendship with a Jew or a Christian makes “a mockery of Allah’s religion.”
Worse yet, Britain remains a major center for Hamas incitement and funding. And now there’s also enormous pressure for Britain and Europe to “engage” with Hamas. Although Brown is said to be against this as long as Hamas wants to destroy Israel, a powerful lobby for it is gaining ground, led by former intelligence officers and other establishment types who are marching to the Islamists’ tune.
The British thinking — under the delusion that there are parallels with Northern Ireland — is that one set of Islamists can be played off against another, and that Hamas and the Brotherhood can be used against al-Qaeda. But the result is likely to be instead the strengthening of Islamists and the weakening of truly moderate Arabs and Muslims everywhere, and a steady increase in Muslim radicalization in Britain and throughout the world. Failing to acknowledge that it is dealing with religious fanaticism, the government is making the terrible mistake of thinking that it is dealing with people who are governed ultimately by recognizable self-interest. So it thinks it can tame them through the flattery of drawing them into the counsels of government.
Certainly, there are moderate Muslims, and we should encourage them. But we must not understate the problem. There is an alarming number of Muslims in Britain who — while they may abhor violence — have views that are not moderate by any reasonable definition. Opinion polls suggest that between 40 and 60 percent of British Muslims would like to live under sharia law in Britain; almost a quarter say the 7/7 bombings can be justified because of the War on Terror; nearly half think 9/11 was a conspiracy between the U.S. and Israel; 46 percent think the Jewish community is “in league with the Freemasons to control the media and police”; and 37 percent think the Jewish community in Britain is a legitimate target “as part of the ongoing struggle for justice in the Middle East.”
In further surveys, 7 percent of Muslims — which works out to 112,000 British Muslims — thought suicide bombing in the U.K. was justified in some circumstances, rising to 16 percent — or 256,000 — if a military target was involved. These are horrifying statistics, and they show how deep the British crisis really is.
This is why the head of the Muslim Council of Britain has said his aim is to encourage Britain to adopt sharia law and more Islamic ways. This is why, after the transatlantic-airline plot was uncovered, 38 British Muslim organizations, along with various Muslim MPs and members of the House of Lords, threatened that unless Britain changed its foreign policy, it would have more terror attacks. This is why other so-called moderate Muslim representatives demanded of the government that sharia law on marriage be adopted into English law and that assorted Muslim holidays should become British national holidays. This is why the Muslim Council of Britain called for all schools to ban “un-Islamic activities” like dance classes and to limit certain school activities during Ramadan (including science lessons dealing with sex, parents’ evenings, exams, and immunization programs).
I see this as a continuum of extremism that acts as a conveyor belt to terror. Even those who don’t support violence may endorse the kind of ideas — the belief that the West is a conspiracy to destroy Islam, that the Jews are the puppet-masters of the West, that Britain should be governed by sharia law, or other views hostile to British and Western society — that are the drivers of terror.
Britain still doesn’t get this at all. Instead, the British government strategy to combat Muslim extremism is based on the discredited “root causes” theory I mentioned earlier. Its post-colonial mindset leads it to believe that all terrorism must be caused by discrete geopolitical grievances — Iraq, Israel/Palestine. The way to end Islamist terror, it thinks, is to end these disputes. But this is precisely the wrong way round. The way to end these disputes is first to end Islamist terror.
Last year, the al Qaeda terrorist Dhiren Barot was jailed in Britain for plotting synchronized atrocities including the use of poison and radioactive bombs. Dhiren Barot was not brought up in poverty, or as a segregated Muslim. He was a middle-class Hindu convert to Islam. He started plotting his atrocities before 9/11, let alone Iraq. And he said something very significant. He said the reason terrorism was — in his view — an Islamic religious duty was that “terror works.” That’s because Britain, Europe, Israel, and, until 9/11, America, have all responded to unending Arab and Muslim terror by seeking to understand, accommodate, or appease the demands behind it. The greater the terror, the greater the self-flagellation of its victims.
The liberal West, which worships at the shrine of reason, does not understand that ideas can kill. As a result Britain, Europe, America, and Israel have all left the battleground of ideas undefended, allowing the advance of falsehood and hatred. Worse still, our intelligentsia and media often act as an Islamists’ fifth column.
The biggest danger to the West is this climate of defeatism, appeasement, and cultural collapse now on display for the Islamists to see. This is the single biggest impetus to Islamist terrorism. We all have to grasp that terrorism is not the biggest threat we face. The biggest threat is the ideology that drives it. It’s not enough to fight terror, vital though that is. The principal battleground is the world of ideas, the battle for hearts and minds. The Islamists see this very clearly. They understand that psychological warfare — the fomenting of paranoia, resentment, hysteria, and demoralization — is their most effective weapon. If they can hijack the human mind to the cause of hatred and lies, they have an army; and if they can bamboozle and demoralize their victims, they will win.
– Melanie Phillips is author of Londonistan, published by Encounter Books.