Commentary

Blair in a Pickle

By Patrick Basham
This article originally appeared on American Spectator Online on July 29, 2005.
Tony Blair must wish he were George Bush. While both administrations wage war on terrorism, the terrorist weed choking London is much harder to stamp out because it’s growing in British soil.

Our fastest-growing religion is Islam but here the numbers aren’t a security concern, as a commitment to Islam hasn’t overwhelmed a strong attachment to America itself. Score another victory for the cultural melting pot. By contrast, the U.K. embraced government-subsidized multiculturalism and is paying a very dear price, indeed.

British asylum laws provide a safe haven to those persecuted for their beliefs elsewhere. For London, the tangible downside of serving as a political oasis is that many radical Islamic clerics took refuge in the city’s mosques, hence “Londonistan.” Funded by the British welfare state, these clerics preach violent jihadism to a stratum of young, second-generation British Muslim men alienated both from mainstream society and the British Muslim establishment.

Today, Blair is caught between a fundamentalist rock and a fascist hard place. How does he act without provoking the Muslim fanatics or the white racists, or both?

Seven in ten Britons want their government to exclude or deport from the U.K. those foreign Muslims who incite hatred, according to an ICM poll for the Guardian newspaper. Blair is keen to comply with public opinion, but he’s hamstrung by the U.K.’s embrace of supranational political bodies. Judges have interpreted the U.N. Convention on Refugees in such a way as to deny the British government the right to refuse admission to, or to revoke refugee status from, those who conspire against their host country.

Nor will Blair gain redress through the E.U. The European Convention on Human Rights, incorporated into British law seven years ago, confers on people the right not to be returned to countries where they may face persecution. Therefore, Blair finds himself in the ridiculous position of pleading with an assortment of authoritarian regimes to guarantee the safety of those dangerous people that the U.K. seeks to deport.

The radical clerics are highly effective proselytizers for their cause. Before the first London bombings, British intelligence services estimated that one percent of Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims either support or are involved in terrorism. Can there really be 16,000 potential Muslim terrorists in the U.K.? No, but a significant number are prepared to act against their own country. The U.K. government says 3,000 British Muslims have returned home from al Qaeda training camps.

A new survey of British Muslims for London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper finds that six percent — 100,000 people — believe the London bombings were fully justified. One in four British Muslims, while not condoning the London attacks, sympathize with the feelings and motives of those who carried them out. Furthermore, nearly one in five British Muslims feels little or no loyalty at all to the U.K., and a third of British Muslims believe that Western society is decadent and immoral and that Muslims should seek to bring it to an end.

This segment of a mainly peaceful and productive immigrant population hasn’t escaped the attention of those political actors whose traditional antipathy toward blacks is being transferred to the largely unassimilated Muslim community. The far-right British National Party is trying to exploit the home-grown terrorist threat by calling for immigration controls and distributing literature using a photograph of the bombed London bus with the caption, “Maybe it’s time to start listening to the BNP.”

Today’s xenophobic right is more than a nuisance because it’s fishing in an increasingly well-stocked pond of grievances. Before 7/7 working-class whites living in heavily Muslim parts of London, and in cities such as Bradford, Leeds, and Luton, voiced the complaint that, on their streets at least, one sees far more burqas than Bobbies. A pervasive cultural apartheid encourages a majority of surveyed whites to believe Muslims are more loyal to fellow Muslims outside of the U.K. than to their fellow Britons.

Some extreme right-wing groups have even joined forces with well-organized soccer hooligans in a coordinated campaign to exact physical revenge upon the Muslim community. British police have recorded over 1,200 suspected anti-Muslim incidents in the past three weeks. Last Friday, for example, a Muslim-owned store in a Leeds suburb was set ablaze and the police evacuated one of London’s largest mosques following a bomb threat.

Since July 7, the Blair government’s response has been surprisingly measured. Yet, both the police and Blair’s conservative opponents, firmly backed by public opinion, tug in the direction of sacrificing additional freedoms for the illusion of certain security.

Among Londoners, fear and frustration are starting to replace stoicism as the most common responses to their new reality. Callers to British talk radio reflect a growing populist sentiment that’s both anti-civil liberties and anti-immigrant. If, in the coming days, Blair’s actions appear insufficient against domestic terror, his countrymen’s legendary stiff upper lip may yet turn into an ugly, authoritarian-minded scowl.

Patrick Basham is senior fellow in the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute.