Watching the horrible images of the recent bomb attacks in London, Americans might be forgiven for feeling a sense of alarm, especially when the terrorism was directly linked to homegrown suicide bombers. The thought of American extremists adopting similar tactics on our soil is extremely worrying, though few media outlets dared to explore the prospect in too much detail: Nobody wants to face charges of ethnic stereotyping. In the New York Times, Nina Bernstein obliquely dealt with the issue under the comforting headline “In American Cities, No Mirror Image of Muslims of Leeds” (July 21). According to her article, we would only face real dangers if we as a society were to blame all Muslims for the crimes of a few and to overreact by passing discriminatory immigration laws.
I am happy to echo this conclusion. In fact, I would like to point out several critical ways in which the British situation differs utterly from ours and, in fact, has for some years been so perilous that no one should really have missed the warning signs. Let me list some of the key differences between our societies.
The most obvious issue is one of population. Britain has a sizable Muslim population, some 1.6 million strong, and even if extremist propaganda influences only a tiny fraction of that group, that would still indicate a potential terrorist milieu running into the tens of thousands. In contrast, the United States has as few as four million or so Muslims.
Again, Britain has a major and well-known network of extremists and terror apologists. These include some buffoonish figures connected with a few notorious mosques, but far more lethal are the discreet networks concealed behind Muslim charities and pressure groups, which present themselves as the voice of a deprived community. So outrageous has Islamic activism become that even the highly liberal British government is now compiling a master list of extremists, based on their inflammatory preaching or support of jihadist websites. Such militant groups work hand in hand with stunningly gullible non-Muslims, who accept them as a legitimate part of a progressive coalition. They leap into action every time the security services detain a Muslim suspect, demanding proof of criminal behavior that would hold up according to the most stringent legal criteria. In reality, such definitive proof only becomes available once the suspect in question has detonated himself on a subway train. The United States, thankfully, has no such extremists and is home to no such covert networks. Nor are American liberals so foolish as to criticize each and every investigation of subversive networks on our soil.
Britain, also, is at last confronting the previously taboo subject of extremist networks in its universities and colleges. Because student status gives instant access to watertight identity papers, militants arriving in the West have long been instructed to register at local colleges. Moreover, Islamic associations and societies on campus are notorious recruiting grounds for militants, who often target rich or middle-class students of lukewarm religious sentiments. And concerns about academic freedom and free speech mean that university authorities are very reluctant to investigate such clandestine activity. A recent report stressed the role of student societies in persuading “people to move from a situation where they may be angry young men and women to being prepared to kill other people and themselves.” “They need to be inspired and encouraged that this is the right thing to do,” and the societies “provide links to those which do that inspiring and encouraging, and university authorities have not the first idea what’s going on in student societies” (Guardian, July 19). Amazingly, things might be about to change, to the point of introducing much closer oversight of extremist student groups. Americans can only look with bafflement at a situation in which universities so abdicate their responsibilities as to tolerate groups using a campus to campaign and organize for violence, or even to permit faculty to undertake pro-terrorist propaganda.
One feature of Islamic terror in Great Britain is extremely worrying: the recruitment of militants from other than Arab or Middle Eastern stock. Would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid is of Caribbean origin, as was the late and unlamented Jermaine Lindsay, one of last July’s subway terrorists. France also records a significant number of white converts to the most extreme forms of Islamic activism. Such individuals are so dangerous, partly, because they disarm the suspicions that would immediately attach to a person of Middle Eastern origin acting suspiciously in a public place. The use of black terrorists poses a double danger, in that a suicide campaign would inevitably increase black-white tensions, as police targeted blacks for special scrutiny or search.
Muslim terrorists have a unique opportunity to recruit black members because of their strong presence in British prisons, through their tight control over the position of prison chaplains or imams. Once recruited, militant inmates form groups in which religious and political propaganda become indistinguishable, preparing them for the day on which they will be released to undertake holy war in British cities. The French today describe their penal institutions as Universities of Jihad. Here again, Americans should take comfort. African-Americans have no acquaintance whatever with Islam in any form, nor are our prisons so idiotic as to entrust the pastoral care of Muslim inmates to extremist imams of Wahhabi disposition.
Finally, Britain has often been engaged in conflicts with Muslim or Middle Eastern nations or terrorist movements. Such enemies might well be expected to strike back using local talent who could easily operate on native soil, without encountering difficulties from immigration authorities. In contrast, the United States eschews all foreign entanglements.
In so many ways, therefore, we see why the United States faces no prospect of domestic subversion by Islamic groups, nor could American Muslim extremists ever turn to suicide bombing. We are not a mirror image of Great Britain.
And I’m Queen Marie of Rumania.