Vicious as the 9/11/01 atrocities in New York and Washington were, there is a way in which the 7/7/05 attacks in London were worse.
On 9/11, Americans were attacked by foreigners, by people raised in Saudi Arabia and other corners of the world where hatred of Americans and “infidels” is relentlessly preached by radical clerics. In other words: “We” were attacked by “them.”
But the suicide bombers who carried out the massacre in the London Underground and on a bus wending its way through Bloomsbury were, as Melanie Phillips notes, “British boys, the product of British schools and universities … the bombers came from middle-class homes.”
In other words: Britons were attacked by Britons, by fellow citizens, a fifth column. In her new book, “Londonistan,” Phillips explores how this came about and laments what it means for the West.
There are more than 1.6 million Muslims in Britain. The overwhelming majority are peaceful and law-abiding. But up to 16,000 British Muslims are believed to be actively engaged in or supporting terrorist activity; as many as 3,000 are estimated to have passed through al Qaeda training camps.
Phillips points out also that while many British imams “doubtless promote only messages of peace, there has been no suppression by British Muslims of the ideology of holy war. This shifting of the center of gravity towards extremism in Islamic discourse in Britain has created the sea in which terrorism can swim.”
British-based terrorists have swum well around the world, carrying out operations in Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel, Morocco, Russia, Spain and the United States.
Young British militants have enlisted in a global movement that first took shape in the early part of the 20th century. Based on the theories of two radical Egyptian intellectuals, Hassan al-Banna and Sayed Qutb, it combined with the older teachings of Saudi Arabian Wahhabism, a variant of Islam that had worried Winston Churchill. The Wahhabis, he observed in 1921, “hold it as an article of duty, as well as of faith, to kill all who do not share their opinions and to make slaves of their wives and children.”
How did such an illiberal ideology spread among immigrants raised in free and tolerant Britain? “The first law of terrorism,” Phillips observes, “is that it preys on weakness.” Britain, she argues, debilitated itself in recent decades by embracing moral relativism and multi-cultural confusion.
Britons put up no barriers to militants from the Middle East who spread hatred and incited violence. Many of the militants lived on taxpayer subsidies. Muslim charities raised money for terrorist groups. British banks were used to channel the funds. Mosques turned into centers for indoctrination and terrorist recruitment.
London became “Europe’s Islamist terror factory,” writes Phillips, a place where “al Qaeda was first forged from disparate radical groups into a global terrorist phenomenon.”
She adds: “Londonistan continued to flourish unhindered even after the ‘wake-up call’ of 9/11.” The British intelligence community didn’t interfere, a lapse explained by “a combination of flawed analysis and cynicism.” Analysts underestimated the threat of Islamic fascism and mistakenly believed that if Britain didn’t bother the militants, the militants wouldn’t bother Britain.
For Americans, Phillips says, this should be more than distressing. The special relationship between the two countries “is no less critical today than when they stood shoulder to shoulder against Nazi Germany.”
Nor is the United States immune to the mentality of Londonistan. There may be no American elected official quite as unsavory as Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London enamored of clerics who call it a “duty” for Muslims to volunteer as suicide-bombers in Iraq and Israel. We don’t have quite the equivalent of George Galloway, the Saddam Hussein supporter who now leads a political party that unites far leftists and Islamists.
But there are many in the United States, as there are in Britain, whose understanding of the war being waged against the West has been distorted by the ingestion of what Phillips calls “a poisonous stew of irrationality, prejudice, ignorance and fear.” There are more than a few who have been misled to believe that “America is a superpower out of control, and that the origin of Muslim rage against the West lies in Israel’s ‘oppression’ of the Palestinians.”
And Britain’s elites, who condone terrorism while condemning traditional British values and identity as “racist, nationalist and discriminatory,” would feel quite at home on many of America’s campuses, in some of its newsrooms, and at last a few of the loveliest living rooms of Hollywood.
(Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.)