Islamic extremism and Britain's cultural cowardice
AS details of last week's failed bomb plots started to emerge, I was reminded of a debate I took part in last year at Birmingham's central mosque during a conference in the city.
It was shortly after the July 7 bombings in London and we had been invited to discuss the issue of security with local Muslim leaders. It was supposed to be the highlight of the conference. The mosque is widely regarded as a hotbed of extremism. So this was a rare opportunity to question why local youths were being filled with such hatred against British society and what role the mosque was playing in it.
I should have known better. My fellow delegates - mostly left-leaning policy wonks, journalists and academics - were never going to ask the tough questions. Frightened of giving offence, the debate turned into familiar hand-wringing about racism, Western decadence and the need for greater cultural understanding.
The elephant in the room was barely mentioned. As a result, we learned little of any value about the role of radical imams and preachers of hate in fomenting terrorism. But as a lesson in the cultural cowardice of the British establishment, it could not be bettered.
Britain's loss of nerve is one of the main reasons it has become a global centre of Islamic extremism. For decades, successive British governments have regarded multiculturalism as an article of faith. The idea that Britain should become a joyous melting pot of different cultures and religions living side by side in mutual toleration and respect is a noble vision. But it's not working out that way. Instead, the benefits of immigration are being lost through a failure to control numbers and a reluctance to pursue policies that might promote integration. As a result, Britain has a huge Muslim population, much of which is increasingly alienated from mainstream society. "Londonistan" is no longer just a safe haven for foreign extremists. Today, it nurtures home-grown terrorists, many born in Britain, educated at British schools and attending British universities.
The July 7 bombers were British. So was Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. Zacarias Moussaoui, convicted for his role in the 9/11 attacks, was a student in London. Some of those arrested last week converted to Islam in the past year. That suggests the problem is escalating.
Clearly, British and US policy in the Middle East has fanned the flames of extremism. The Iraq war was a catastrophic error of judgment. George Bush and Tony Blair claimed to be spreading Western liberal values, yet never seemed to realise how corrupt those values appeared when imposed at the barrel of a gun, in breach of international law and on the pretext of lies.
More recently, Britain and the US stood by and watched as Israel flattened large parts of Lebanon. Combined with the West's abandonment of Palestine and its collusion with so many corrupt regimes in the Middle East, it's easy to see how the so-called war on terror can appear as a war against Islam.
Plenty of people in Britain feel angry about Iraq and Lebanon but don't feel the urge to blow themselves up in planes and trains. Even allowing for the anger felt by fellow Muslims, it is still a big step to volunteer to strap on a suicide bomb.
The British political system offers a far more effective way to change government policy. You can vote the government out. So why do young Muslims embrace terrorism rather than democratic politics? How can people born and educated in Britain feel so alienated from its culture and values? The snag is that many never fully engage with British culture and values. Muslims make up the majority in many towns and in most big cities there are large Muslim enclaves. Even if the multiculturalists were to change their minds on the need for integration, it would be too late. Muslim leaders are demanding more separation from mainstream society, not less.
They want bank holidays for Muslim festivals and sharia law courts to rule on family matters. They may well get it. They are helped by the remarkable ambivalence of the liberal Left towards British culture and values: to Christianity, British history, free markets and free trade.
Above all, the Left is deeply suspicious of the institutions in which those values are embedded, starting with the family and extending via churches, schools, businesses, clubs, right through to parliament and the monarchy. To the Left, Britain's social institutions are bastions of privilege that must be remodelled or destroyed to make way for multiculturalism. The resulting cultural war has left British society brutalised and infantilised, and wide open to attack.
Why should British Muslims respect a culture that has no respect for itself? They are quite rightly horrified by the degeneracy of much of what passes for British culture today - the soaring teenage pregnancies, the rampant drug use, the violent city centre no-go areas on a Friday and Saturday night - and they don't want any truck with it. They see that multiculturalism quickly becomes no culture, which makes them all the more determined to hang on to their own.
And they see - as I saw in Birmingham last year - a Left-liberal elite that is so craven in its desire to appease minorities that it has lost the resolve to confront the dangers it has unleashed.
Multiculturalism is to blame for perverting young Muslims
Jihad and European Multiculturalism
Islam needs to face up to its failures
Extremism among British Muslims
London Journal: "Moderate" Muslims Behaving Badly