Jihad Central

As Robert S. Leiken argues in his brilliant new book, Britain's lost confidence in nationhood has made it the centre of European jihadism

John Ware

Lost souls: Post-migrant Muslims seek a radical identity in multicultural Britain (Credit: Getty Images)

More than 100,000 British Muslims considered the merciless savagery of the 7/7 London tube and bus bombings to be justified, according to opinion polls at the time. Two years later MI5’s director general said 2,000 Muslims were “known to be involved in terrorist-related activity” and that there were “as many again that we don’t yet know of”. The number of British jihadis far exceeds the total for the rest of Europe. Yet still we puzzle over why Britain became the jihadi capital of  Europe. MPs on the Home Affairs Committee seeking an answer have recently drawn only a “few clear conclusions”.  We know the “ingredients” for radicalisation; we don’t yet know “how to cook the recipe”.

One man who thinks he does is the American political scientist and historian, Robert Leiken, a director of the immigration and national security program at the Nixon Centre in Washington. His latest book, Europe’s Angry Muslims, finds the main ingredient is Britain’s approach to immigration — not a word that even occurs in the Home Affairs Committee’s 55-page report. There has been a “chronic accommodation of jihadism”, says Leiken, and not only because in the 1990s we waved through jihadists — some, like the Algerian Armed Islamic Group, so bloodthirsty that even Osama bin Laden denounced them. 

Above all, the underlying explanation for so many British Muslims falling under the spell of jihadists like Omar Bakri (twice granted asylum) was Britain’s desire to grant Muslims autonomy in the name of “diversity”.

The Left became infatuated with Muslim identity because it filled the equality void left by the lost cause of the workers’ movement that collapsed with Soviet Communism.

The Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone led this equality movement, transforming the meaning of “equality” as a universal right, to group rights where ethnic minorities were left to “express their own identities, explore their own histories, formulate their own values and pursue their own lifestyles”.  

The establishment itself also became animated by diversity. After the 1981 Brixton riots, the Tory grandee Sir George Young became Britain’s first minister of race relations. 

But the constant celebration and aggrandisement of diversity has created ethnic and religious enclaves. In the ghost towns of the North, this led to the promotion of local councils dominated in Muslim communities by clan chiefs, mosque committees and the Labour Party.  

And so the burden of assimilation has fallen on what Leiken calls “marginal man” — the post-migrant Muslim of the second generation. This is why, in Europe, Muslim extremism is most likely to come not from migrants but from their children, like Mohammed Siddique Khan, ringleader of the 7/7 bombers.

Khan was suspended between two cultures: the tribal, clan-like folk Islam of his father with its imported imams from Mirpur and a cousin in Pakistan awaiting his hand in marriage; and the secular, modern fast-changing world around him. Neither tribal nor urban, traditional nor modern culture, offered Khan a sure footing and he ended up with a series of dead-end jobs. Radical Islam offered him the chance to revolt against both.

Whether you call this a clash of civilisations or of philosophies is beside the point, which is that it happened on ground that had become alien and shaky because the political establishment saw virtue in diversity even at the cost of national identity.

So the young Khan, who had sought out the in-crowd at school, became a Benefits Agency admin assistant and welfare worker, then turned from the inside towards the outside, and into the arms of the mosque at Finsbury Park. Originally set up by Saudi Arabia and opened by the Prince of Wales, it was far from a genteel cosmopolitan centre of study. It purveyed raw, rampant bigotry, from literature like Al-Wala’ wa’l Bara which held Muslims to be a superior breed and urged enmity towards the disbelievers: “Do not take Jews and Christians for Friends. They are friends of one another and whoever of you takes them as friends is one of them.”  

The lost soul of post-migrant “marginal man” was back in with an in-crowd — albeit one that had come from the outside. 

Saudi pietists and Afghan veterans also knocked on France’s door. But in contrast to Britain’s dalek-like command that diversity must be celebrated, the French said “non“: for their civic nation is paramount and religious identity is allotted no space in the public sphere. 

The French dream hasn’t always measured up to the reality, as the riots in the banlieues showed. And yet it was not Islamism but nationalism that motivated France’s post-migrant  protest at their treatment by the police — and because they were being ignored. They were, as Leiken says, demanding to come under the drapeau tricolore — not the green banner of Islam, as so many commentators said at the time.

The recent shooting of three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in Toulouse is France’s first mass casualty Islamist attack since 1995. It may not be the last, however. As in Britain, the Left has begun to play politics with Muslim identity in its quest for a new proletarian vanguard.

Leiken also fears for Germany, torn by two forces — nationalism and multiculturalism — and unable to sort out where its ugly ethnocentric past ends and where national prides survives. 

But his main focus is Britain and the ingredients which have turned it into the centre of European jihad. All are woven with skill, precision and dispassion into a requiem for Britain’s lost confidence about nationhood. One statistic stands out: a 2006 Pew Research Center Survey of Muslim and non-Muslim attitudes in Europe shows that where Muslim identity was most distinct and most widely tolerated, as in Britain, Muslims also felt most alienated. Or, as Leiken puts it, there was less conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims in the European country least tolerant of Muslim identity (France) than in highly tolerant multicultural Britain. Those seeking to blame MI5 for failing to stop 7/7 should probably look elsewhere. 

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