On the Sunday after the London bombings, the parish priest of the church that stands a few yards away from where the number 30 bus was blown up in Russell Square delivered a sermon in which, having urged his congregation to rejoice in the capital’s rich diversity of cultures, traditions, ethnic groups and faiths, he added: “There is one small practical thing that we can all do. We can name the people who did these things as criminals or terrorists. We must not name them as Muslims.
- Melanie Phillips, Londonistan
Melanie Phillips has written a powerful short history of how Islamic radicals have become an important presence in British life. She describes the rise of modern Moslem antisemitism, the inability of the security services to see the coming threat, the loss of cultural identity in Britain, the results of the culture of victimhood becoming entrenched in the welfare state, and the continued appeasement of Muslim clerics in an increasingly fragmented society.
She is at her best when thoroughly demolishing the PC belief that Israeli actions or indeed the existence of Israel can explain the depth of Islamic hatred. From time to time Phillips stops to gives us little reminders - Koranic verses, of the formation of Egypt’s fundamentalist and violent Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, and the antisemitic and anti-Western doctrines of Sayed Qutb in the late 40's read by bin Laden.
Phillips details the longstanding British post-colonial effort to manage its imported and later homegrown Islamic radicals. She describes a kind of hoped for agreement; don’t attack Britain and you’ll be free to say and to plot pretty much whatever you like. She relentlessly shines light on the pandering of British politicians, especially Red Ken and George Galloway. I read it as a cautionary tale for Americans; if Hispanic separatists become a potent political force, we’ll have our own George Galloways, too.
Londonistan describes the gradual breakdown of shared and traditional national values in Britain and their replacement by multiculturalism. We see the distancing of the elites from the US, furthered by bitter disagreement over Iraq, the natural linkage between the old welfare state and the new culture of victimhood, and the usual British tendency to minimize the threat. Here is Jackie Ashley reviewing the book in the Guardian:
But perhaps the naive, decadent, muddling-along, apologetic old British establishment knows something Phillips has not understood. Perhaps the country has held together and survived exactly by not taking overexcited youths at face value; by assuming that rational argument and debate are the best way to fight extremism. There's a lot to worry about. There always is. But London is London, not Londonistan. The Pennines are not the Khyber Pass . . .
Maybe. But how amenable are British Moslems to a secularist’s “rational argument and debate” when today 40 percent of them may want to be governed by sharia law? (A 2004 Guardian/ICM poll found that 61 percent favored sharia law in civil cases.) Phillips writes “and so the public space abandoned by Christianity is filled”. By that she means not Christianity as a religion so much as Christianity having been the framework for a universally accepted morality. Londonistan is well-argued and persuasive in its account of elite Western failure to confront Islam, though by now - especially in the blogosphere - this has become a very well traveled road.
For me, the reverse is now much more interesting; when do cultures recognize and effectively challenge the Islamic threat? In fact, the thoughts of the parish priest were expressed by George Bush as well. The difference is - he didn’t mean them. For starters, it helps to be someplace other than in public life in a European state. So as Norway, Sweden, and France look away from the robberies, the gang rapes, and the burning cars, India matter of factly builds an anti-terrorist fence along its entire 2,500 mile border with Bangladesh. To hear the Anglican bishops of Africa, whose congregations grow even as their homes are attacked and churches burnt by Moslem terrorists, is to hear people living in a very different moral universe from that inhabited by the priest in Russell Square.
If there is a flaw, this is it. We aren’t told how (post-Christian? non-Islamic?) Britons who are not Guardian readers are reacting and what political forms their concerns might take - leading to further growth of the BNP or to something else. Phillips mentions several times in passing an America where multiculturalism is being fought with some success in contrast to a Britain where multiculturalism remains virtually unchallenged in public life. But resistance there is. In a post at her website describing the difficulties of publishing her book in Britain, she touches on popular reaction. A British woman of Nigerian origin wrote “you speak for a larger group of people than you probably know”. All the more reason then to learn about the currents moving under the ice.