They say that the past is another country, but let me tell you that it's much more unsettling to find that the present has become another country, too. In my lost youth I lived in Finsbury Park, a shabby area of North London, roughly between the old Arsenal football ground and the Seven Sisters Road. It was a working-class neighborhood, with a good number of Irish and Cypriot immigrants. Your food choices were the inevitable fish-and-chips, plus the curry joint, plus a strong pitch from the Greek and Turkish kebab sellers. There was never much "bother," as the British say, in Finsbury Park. Greeks and Turks might be fighting in Cyprus, but they never lifted a hand to one another in London. Many of the Irish had republican allegiances, but they didn't take that out on the local Protestants. And, even though both Cyprus and Ireland had all the grievances of partitioned former British colonies, it would have seemed inconceivable—unimaginable—that any of their sons would put a bomb on the bus their neighbors used.https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/06/hitchens200706
Returning to the old place after a long absence, I found that it was the scent of Algeria that now predominated along the main thoroughfare of Blackstock Road. This had had a good effect on the quality of the coffee and the spiciness of the grocery stores. But it felt odd, under the gray skies of London, to see women wearing the veil, and even swathed in the chador or the all-enveloping burka. Many of these Algerians, Bangladeshis, and others are also refugees from conflict in their own country. Indeed, they have often been the losers in battles against Middle Eastern and Asian regimes which they regard as insufficiently Islamic. Quite unlike the Irish and the Cypriots, they bring these far-off quarrels along with them. And they also bring a religion which is not ashamed to speak of conquest and violence.
Until he was jailed last year on charges of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred, a man known to the police of several countries as Abu Hamza al-Masri was the imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque. He was a conspicuous figure because, having lost the use of an eye and both hands in an exchange of views in Afghanistan, he sported an opaque eye plus a hook to theatrical effect. Not as nice as he looked, Abu Hamza was nonetheless unfailingly generous with his hospitality. Overnight guests at his mosque's sleeping quarters have included Richard Reid, the man in whose honor we now all have to take off our shoes at the airport, and Zacarias Moussaoui, the missing team member of September 11, 2001. Other visitors included Ahmed Ressam, arrested for trying to blow up LAX for the millennium, and Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian who planned to don an explosive vest and penetrate the American Embassy in Paris. On July 7, 2005 ("7/7," as the British call it), a clutch of bombs exploded in London's transport system. It emerged that one of the suicide murderers had been influenced by the preachings of Abu Hamza, as had two of those attempting to replicate the mission two weeks later.
In fact, the British jihadist is becoming quite a feature on the international scene. In 1998, six British citizens of Pakistani and North African descent along with two other British residents were arrested by the government of Yemen and convicted of planning to kidnap a group of tourists and attack British targets in the port of Aden (scene of the near-sinking of the U.S.S. Cole two years later). One of the youths was the son of the tireless Abu Hamza, and another was his stepson. In December 2001, Richard Reid made his bid on the Paris–Miami flight. By then, two or three Britons had been killed in Afghanistan—fighting on the side of the Taliban. The following year came the video butchering of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, whose abduction and murder were organized by another Briton—a former student at the London School of Economics—named Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. And the year after that, two British-passport holders, Asif Mohammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, took part in a suicide attack on Mike's Place, a Tel Aviv bar.
The British have always been proud of their tradition of hospitality and asylum, which has benefited Huguenots escaping persecution, European Jewry, and many political dissidents from Marx to Mazzini. But the appellation "Londonistan," which apparently originated with a sarcastic remark by a French intelligence officer, has come to describe a city which became home to people wanted for terrorist crimes as far afield as Cairo and Karachi. The capital of the United Kingdom is, in the words of Steven Simon, a former White House counterterrorism official, "the Star Wars bar scene," catering promiscuously to all manner of Islamist recruiters and fund-raisers for, and actual practitioners of, holy war.
In the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, which killed 52 civilians (including a young Afghan, Atique Sharifi, who had fled to London to escape the Taliban) and injured hundreds more, I found that American television interviewers were all asking me the same question: How can this be? Britain is the country of warm beer and cricket and rain-lashed seaside resorts, not a place of arms for exotic and morbid cults. British press coverage struck the same plaintive note. One of the murderers, Shehzad Tanweer, was a cricket enthusiast from Leeds, in Yorkshire, whose family ran a fish-and-chips shop. You can't get much more assimilated than that. Yet Britain's former head of domestic intelligence, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller (and you can't get much more British than that, either), said last year that there are more than "1,600 identified individuals" within the borders of the kingdom who are ready to follow Tanweer's example (including those in whose honor we now all have to part with our liquids and gels at the airport). And, according to Manningham-Buller, "over 100,000 of our citizens consider the July 2005 attacks in London justified."
I told those who were interviewing me to go back and review the 1997 film of Hanif Kureishi's brilliant short story "My Son the Fanatic," and then to reread Monica Ali's 2003 novel, Brick Lane. The film is set in a dilapidated Yorkshire mill town very like the ones that spawned the 7/7 bombers, and the book is named for an area of East London that is now mainly Bengali and Muslim but has been home to successive waves of Huguenot and Jewish immigration. I remember leaving the cinema after seeing My Son the Fanatic, and feeling a heavy sense of depression, along with a strong premonition of trouble to come. In the figures of Parvez, the Pakistani cabdriver, and his morose son, Farid, Kureishi had captured the generational essence of the problem. In the 1960s, many Asians moved to Britain in quest of employment and education. They worked hard, were law-abiding, and spent much of their time combating prejudice. Their mosques were more like social centers. But their children, now grown, are frequently contemptuous of what they see as their parents' passivity. Often stirred by Internet accounts of jihadists in faraway countries like Chechnya or Kashmir, they perhaps also feel the urge to prove that they have not "sold out" by living in the comfortable, consumerist West. A recent poll by the Policy Exchange think tank captures the problem in one finding: 59 percent of British Muslims would prefer to live under British law rather than Shari'a; 28 percent would choose Shari'a. But among those 55 and older, only 17 percent prefer Shari'a, whereas in the 16-to-24 age group the figure rises to 37 percent. Almost exactly the same proportions apply when the question is whether or not a Muslim who converts to another faith should be put to death …
‘They remind me of the 60s revolutionaries in some ways," said Hanif Kureishi as we sat in one of London's finest Indian restaurants. "A lot of romantic talk, but a hard-core faction who will actually volunteer to go to training camps." Making a rather sharp distinction between the new young fundamentalists and the 1960s rebels, he added that he had never met a jihadist who wasn't militantly anti-Semitic. Monica Ali, whose lovely novel also emphasizes the generational divide and captures the Third World–type pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric, independently told me the same thing. She had seen British television cave in to extremists who did not want her book made into a film, and who threatened trouble if the cameras were brought to the East End, but this did not alarm her as much as "the way that hatred of the Jews has become absolutely standard, all across the community."
It's interesting that it should be authors from Muslim backgrounds—Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, Monica Ali, the broadcaster and co-author of the Policy Exchange report Munira Mirza—who are issuing the warnings. For the British mainstream, multiculturalism has been the official civic religion for so long that any criticism of any minority group has become the equivalent of profanity. And Islamic extremists have long understood that they need only suggest a racial bias—or a hint of the newly invented and meaningless term "Islamophobia"—in order to make the British cough and shuffle with embarrassment. Prince Charles himself, the heir to the throne and thus the heir to the headship of the Church of England, has announced his sympathy for Islam and his wish to be the head of all faiths and not just one. This may sound good, if absurd (a chinless prince who becomes head of a church because his mother dies?), but only if you forget that it was Prince Charles who encouraged the late King Fahd, of Saudi Arabia, to contribute more than a million pounds to build … the Finsbury Park Mosque! If you want my opinion, our old district was a lot better off when the crowned heads of the world were busy neglecting it.
Anyway, you can't be multicultural and preach murderous loathing of Jews, Britain's oldest and most successful (and most consistently anti-racist) minority. And you can't be multicultural and preach equally homicidal hatred of India, Britain's most important ally and friend after the United States. My colleague Henry Porter sat me down in his West London home and made me watch a documentary that he thought had received far too little attention when shown on Britain's Channel 4. It is entitled Undercover Mosque, and it shows film shot in quite mainstream Islamic centers in Birmingham and London (you can now find it easily on the Internet). And there it all is: foaming, bearded preachers calling for crucifixion of unbelievers, for homosexuals to be thrown off mountaintops, for disobedient and "deficient" women to be beaten into submission, and for Jewish and Indian property and life to be destroyed. "You have to bomb the Indian businesses, and as for the Jews, you kill them physically," as one sermonizer, calling himself Sheikh al-Faisal, so prettily puts it. This stuff is being inculcated in small children—who are also informed that the age of consent should be nine years old, in honor of the prophet Muhammad's youngest spouse. Again, these were not tin-roof storefront mosques but well-appointed and well-attended places of worship, often the beneficiaries of Saudi Arabian largesse. It's not just the mosques, either. In West London there is a school named for Prince Charles's friend King Fahd, with 650 pupils, funded and run by the government of Saudi Arabia. According to Colin Cook, a British convert to Islam (initially inspired by the former crooner Cat Stevens) who taught there for 19 years, teaching materials said that Jews "engage in witchcraft and sorcery and obey Satan," and incited pupils to list the defects of worthless heresies such as Judaism and Christianity.
What this shows is the utter futility of the soft-centered explanations of the 7/7 bombings and other outrages. It was argued for a while that the 7/7 perpetrators were victims of unemployment and poverty, until their remains were identified and it became clear that most of them came from educated and reasonably well-off backgrounds. The excuses then abruptly switched, and we were asked to believe that it was Tony Blair's policy in Iraq and Afghanistan that motivated the killers. Suppose the latter to be true. It would still be the case that they belong to a movement that hates Jews and Indians and all kuffar, or "unbelievers": a fanatical sect that believes itself entitled to use deadly violence at any time. The roots of violence, that is to say, are in the preaching of it, and the sanctification of it.
If anything, Tony Blair is far too indulgent to this phenomenon. It is his policy of encouraging "faith schools" that has written sectarianism into the very fabric of British life. A non-Muslim child who lives in a Muslim-majority area may now find herself attending a school that requires headscarves. The idea of separate schools for separate faiths—the idea that worked so beautifully in Northern Ireland—has meant that children are encouraged to think of themselves as belonging to a distinct religious "community" rather than a nation. As Undercover Mosque also shows, Blair's government has appeased leading Muslim apologists by inviting them to join "commissions" to investigate the 7/7 attacks, and thus awarding them credibility well beyond their deserts. A preposterous and sinister individual named Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain and a man with a public record of support for Osama bin Laden, was made a convener of Blair's task force on extremism despite his stated belief that the BBC and the rest of the media are "Zionist controlled."
It's impossible to exaggerate how far and how fast this situation has deteriorated. Even at the time of the Satanic Verses affair, as long ago as 1989, Muslim demonstrations may have demanded Rushdie's death, but they did so, if you like, peacefully. And they confined their lurid rhetorical attacks to Muslims who had become apostate. But at least since the time of the Danish-cartoon furor, threats have been made against non-Muslims as well as ex-Muslims (see photograph), the killing of Shiite Muslim heretics has been applauded and justified, and the general resort to indiscriminate violence has been rationalized in the name of god. Traditional Islamic law says that Muslims who live in non-Muslim societies must obey the law of the majority. But this does not restrain those who now believe that they can proselytize Islam by force, and need not obey kuffar law in the meantime. I find myself haunted by a challenge that was offered on the BBC by a Muslim activist named Anjem Choudary: a man who has praised the 9/11 murders as "magnificent" and proclaimed that "Britain belongs to Allah." When asked if he might prefer to move to a country which practices Shari'a, he replied: "Who says you own Britain anyway?" A question that will have to be answered one way or another.