When the United States government was seeking to retaliate for the terrorist attacks last year, it was not too difficult to name the obvious targets: Afghanistan (of course), Iraq, Somalia, and the rest of the world’s bandit states.  Opponents of military intervention could make few effective arguments, but one point that was quite widely raised should not be dismissed out of hand.  Yes, argued the critics, the hijackers and their accomplices had spent long periods in sinister countries like Afghanistan; however, they had also trained, armed, and prepared in several European nations, such as Germany, France, and Britain.  So why should U.S. forces be bombing Kabul rather than Paris or Berlin?  Obviously, European governments were not supporting terrorist organizations in the same way that the Taliban were; nonetheless, most of the extreme Islamist groups were and are operating openly in democratic European nations, in a way that would never be tolerated in most Middle Eastern societies.  The ongoing jihad against Western Christendom is firmly based within the West, in the cities of Europe and North America.

The seeming desire of liberal Western societies to assist in their own suicide might be seen as a kind of collective social pathology.  It also has a critical economic dimension, since unrestricted travel and migration are fundamental tenets of the whole notion of globalization.  Since the 1950’s, European nations have all but eliminated restrictions on immigration from poorer countries, and the heritage of colonialism has meant that many of these new immigrants have come from Muslim lands.  Meanwhile, European states have been encouraged to abandon their distinctive cultural traditions, to create a brave new United States of Europe that is free of national or racial distinctions and dedicated to promoting the corporate good.  Obviously, religion would play no great role in the new European order, since no intelligent person takes this Christian nonsense too seriously anymore.  And surely, it would not be too long before the new immigrants abandoned their particular prejudices and joined the ex-Christians and ex-Jews in the common search for profit.  The problem is that, while the old Christendom was fast abandoning its identity, the new Muslim populations were reinforcing theirs, as global Islam has been galvanized by a potent religious and political revival.  As a direct consequence of economic globalization, Europe is now home to millions of Muslims who are pledged to resist that very process—and a significant number of these are prepared to fight to the death to resist a global capitalist order.  Globalization creates the means, motive, and opportunity by which the deadliest enemies of the West can sustain an enduring campaign of the kind of violence we witnessed last September.  Is there a better example of globalization and interdependence than the Al Qaeda network, which on every continent pursues its struggle against the continuation of human civilization?  Globalization, it now appears, is a self-limiting and self-defeating process.

Great Britain offers a model case study of the emerging threats on European soil.  Today, Britain has around 1.2 million Muslims, roughly two percent of the population—a smaller percentage than France or Germany.  The Muslim population, though, is especially significant in certain cities, where heavy concentrations of Pakistanis and Bengalis have created strong Asian enclaves.  In addition, London has a very substantial Arab population as a result of its de facto role as the cultural and financial capital of the Middle East, which it became following the destruction of Beirut in the 1970’s.  In more senses than one, London is now Beirut West.

It is not just conventional piety to note that most British Muslims have no inclination to engage in violence, no secret fantasies of overthrowing the West.  In fact, a good number of Muslim leaders labor against the hardcore Islamists.  Last year, British Islam received undesirable publicity when a British convert named Richard Reid reportedly tried to blow up a transatlantic airliner, using explosives stashed in his shoe.  Media investigations of Reid’s background led to London’s Brixton mosque, where the accused “shoe-bomber” may have worshipped together with Zacarias Moussaoui, currently facing trial in the United States as the “20th hijacker” in the September 11 attacks.  The Brixton mosque is pastored by Abdul Haqq Baker, who appeared regularly on television news following the airliner attack.  Despite the grim circumstances, Imam Baker emerged as a powerful advertisement for what is still mainstream Islam.  He retains a belief that Islam is a religion of peace that encourages its members to serve God and live according to His Law; when some worshippers from his mosque started dabbling in militant Islamist politics, Baker tipped off the police about their activities.  His chief complaint was that British police never paid enough attention to his earnest warnings about terrorist talent scouts preying on mosques like his in search of the young and unstable.  In his view, “The recruiting has got out of control.”  As Imam Baker preaches to his alarmed congregation, “Beware.  It’s your sons, your teenagers who are being plucked into these extreme groups.”

Imam Baker, however, represents only one strand of British Islam.  Much more frightening is the notorious mosque in London’s Finsbury Park, a favorite destination for Islamic extremists worldwide.  The mosque stands in a heavily Muslim quarter called “Little Algeria” and has been frequented by members of international Islamist groups such as Algeria’s terrorist GIA, the Groupe Islamique Armé.  The GIA is a principal component of the Al Qaeda network; indeed, Al Qaeda owes its very existence to a merger between the GIA and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.  The man accused of training the pilots who undertook the attacks on September 11 was, in fact, an Algerian resident in Britain.

Among the firebrand preachers at the Finsbury Park mosque is Abu Hamza al-Masri, who once fought with the mujahedin in Afghanistan and edited a newsletter for the GIA.  Within Britain, he runs an extremist group called Supporters of Shariah (SOS), which has organized military training for young British Muslims.  (The training camps normally run in December, to offer distraction from “the obscenity of Christmas.”)  Some years ago, SOS supporters—including members of Abu Hamza’s family—were arrested in Yemen on charges that they had been sent to that country to destroy Western and Christian targets.  Abu Hamza condemns the September 11 attacks, but only because he claims they were carried out by the Israeli Mossad.  Within hours of the attacks, however, graffiti near the mosque proclaimed “New York Taleban Triumph” and “God Bless the Dead Dollar.”

Visitors to Finsbury Park have included Ahmed Ressam, a GIA fighter who was arrested on the Canadian border at the end of 1999, en route to bomb Los Angeles’ LAX airport.  Another regular attendee was the French-Algerian Djamel Beghal, who was arrested several weeks before September 11 for plotting a series of European terrorist “spectaculars.”  One of the most ambitious schemes involved flying a helicopter full of explosives into the U.S. embassy in Paris.  Beghal was part of a much-feared clandestine network called the Takfir-wal-Hijra (“Anathema and Exile”), which received funding from Osama bin Laden, although bin Laden reputedly found the group too extreme for his taste.

Apart from the Finsbury Park group (though connected with it), Britain also has several other Islamist networks that overtly preach jihad and recruit young men to fight in holy wars across the globe—in Bosnia and Kashmir, Afghanistan and Chechnya.  (A good number of young European recruits turned up among the Al Qaeda prisoners taken during the U.S. war in Afghanistan).  In addition, a network of Islamic “charitable” foundations has proved vital to terrorist fundraising worldwide.

One preacher who has become a familiar demon-figure in the British media is the Islamic judge Sheik Omar Bakri Mohamed, leader of the violently anti-Jewish Muhajiroun.  He first came to notice in the mid-1990’s with a series of public rallies in London, in which he declared his vision for an Islamicized Britain.  Major planks in his platform included stoning to death those guilty of homosexuality, adultery, fornication, and bestiality; the prohibition of the Union Jack, Christmas decorations and shop-window mannequins; and the abolition of public mixing with members of the opposite sex.  In 1998, he also declared—following the embassy bombings in east Africa—that “United States forces are legitimate targets.”  The British media understandably depicted him as a deranged crank; unlike most cranks, however, Omar Bakri has close connections to very dedicated and well-armed Islamist organizations.  Among other friends worldwide, he remains close to Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, the American-based mullah whose mosque was the base of organization for the first World Trade Center attack in 1993.

Another highly visible leader of Islamic fanaticism in the United Kingdom is Abu Qatada, a Palestinian by birth.  He is connected to the GIA and has been described as “Bin Laden’s ambassador to Europe.”  A recent Spanish indictment declared him the “spiritual head of the mujaheddin in Europe.”  Allegedly, he was involved in a brutal scheme to attack Western targets in Jordan during the millennium celebrations in December 1999, in what would have been the other half of the planned atrocity at LAX.  Abu Qatada also led a prayer group near Baker Street, which included well-known spiritual seeker Zacarias Moussaoui.

The Islamists have been admirably frank about what they want.  Particularly in recent months, journalists have regularly excavated these corners of an English field that is forever Pakistan, and they have had no difficulty in persuading Islamists to discuss their deranged vision of the future.  In the Washington Post, for instance, Sharon Waxman interviewed one young “British” activist who declared that

Islam is fundamentally opposed to democracy.  Democracy is law by the people, of the people, for the people.  No.  We want the law by Allah, for the people.  It’s man-made law versus divine law.  You can’t have both. . . . The objective of a caliphate is to make Islam dominate the world.  The filth of capitalism dominates the world and should be eradicated.

Looking at this band of bizarre extremists, we might be tempted to ask how their home nations have had the nerve to dump their subversives on British shores, but that question would be grossly unfair to the Middle Eastern states.  Over the years, Britain and other European nations have followed a somewhat unusual principle of law enforcement that can be described as “You lock them up; we let them in.”  Abu Qatada has twice been convicted in Jordan on terrorist charges, and many of these new British immigrants stand high on the most wanted lists of countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and the Persian Gulf states.  Yemen has a long-standing request to extradite Abu Hamza on charges of plotting terrorism there, though nobody believes that the London government will ever respond.  Britain is blessed by the presence of Omar Bakri only because he claimed asylum there in the mid-1980’s, while in flight from the Saudi Arabian secret police.  One Muslim thug wanted in the attempted assassination of a former Egyptian prime minister lived freely in Britain for several years, despite repeated Egyptian demands to have him delivered for trial.  In every case, the suspects are allowed to stay in Britain because they allege that their home countries are persecuting them on religious or political grounds: They are noble dissidents, potential prisoners of conscience.

British toleration of the GIA is particularly strange, since these activists are wanted not only by Arab states but by other European police forces.  Most of the GIA activists who roam freely throughout Britain are wanted in Algeria, where the security forces would dearly like to hold some quite intense conversations with them (probably involving electrodes).  The French are especially angry over the sanctuary granted to GIA fighters, since the GIA was involved in bombings in Paris in the early 1990’s.  One proposed attack involved a scheme to crash an airliner into the Eiffel Tower, apparently a first draft of the plan that ultimately bore fruit on September 11.  Yet the British remain adamant.  One GIA organizer, Abou Faref, lived in Britain for six years while the French tried to extradite him for his alleged role in these bombings.  The British seem determined to follow quite literally Voltaire’s boast about “defending to the death” opinions with which they disagree.  Unfortunately, a great many innocent civilians could be forced to meet quite literal deaths in order to maintain the principle of political asylum and the defense of dissidence.

It is tempting to dismiss characters like Omar Bakri as fringe lunatics who can pose little real harm either to the United Kingdom or to the wider West, but such complacency would be misguided.  After all, mounting a serious terrorist campaign takes far fewer people than the general public commonly assumes.  Through its 30-year campaign against the British government, the provisional IRA never had more than 500 or so actual fighters at any given time; this hard core of shooters and bombers was supported by perhaps ten times that number of active sympathizers.  The Basque ETA has carried on its prolonged war with a military core of around a hundred—again, with a penumbra perhaps ten times as large; and the German Red Army Fraction relied on only 20 to 30 actual paramilitary fighters.

Now look at the British Muslim population.  Assume, for the sake of argument, that ten percent of adult male Muslims are regularly hearing incitements to jihad, and ten percent of that audience might, in some circumstances, be driven to act upon those ideas.  Both figures are fairly conservative given the intense recruiting activity undertaken by Islamist clerics in British prisons and the network of several hundred Taliban-style fundamentalist schools operating in British cities.  This would mean that, conceivably, Britain has a core of at least 3,000 or 4,000 potential jihad fighters, more than enough to levy a devastating guerrilla war against British society.  And unlike ETA or the IRA, the British mujahedin would be driven by an ideology that extolled suicide attacks.

When assessing this threat, we might recall the obscure name of Mohammed Bilal, a 24-year-old Birmingham-born man who, in 2000, drove a truckload of explosives into a barracks in the Indian province of Kashmir as part of the Islamist effort to take over that contested region.  Reportedly, he had been dispatched by the British-based al-Muhajiroun.  In the circumstances of the time, he had to travel halfway across the world to meet his martyrdom, but it is not too difficult to conceive of circumstances in which he could have met his goal much closer to home—perhaps in Birmingham itself.  Just this past January, a spokesman for al-Muhajiroun boasted of the number of British Muslims, trained in Afghanistan, who would be forced to return home after the fall of the Taliban.  He declared that “If they do return, I do believe they will take military action within Britain [against] British military and government institutions, as well as British military and government individuals.”

Very probably, any such guerrilla war would employ much more lethal tactics than have been witnessed hitherto.  While the events of last September inevitably make us think of aerial terrorist attacks, it is much more likely that the next phase will involve either the familiar truck bombs or—a much more frightening concept—shipborne attacks.  The Allied scientists who designed the atom bomb originally thought of delivering it by these means, and we can see some awful historical precedents arising from accidental explosions aboard ships.  Think, for instance, of the annihilation of the Canadian port of Halifax when an ammunition ship exploded in the harbor in 1917.  London is dreadfully vulnerable to such an attack, since virtually all of Britain’s leading political and military targets are perilously close to the Thames.  The same point applies to many other European (and, of course, American) cities.  Why should someone try smuggling explosives through airport security when a single ship can carry a thousand tons of lethal chemicals right into the heart of a great port?

To say that the British are failing to respond adequately to these threats would be a charitable understatement.  After September 11, the chief official act of Parliament was to pass seemingly draconian anti-terror legislation, which resulted in a few random detentions of the usual suspects.  The British government was much less alarmed by the Islamist challenge than by the danger of an anti-Muslim backlash.  One of the rare occasions that a British minister showed genuine anger in his pronouncements was when a Home Office apparatchik swore to root out “the cancer of Islamophobia” from British society.  Despite all the warnings, all the evidence of clear-and-present danger, the authorities have never once shown the slightest recognition of the need to detain or deport those who have actively incited terrorist violence on British soil or to disrupt the elaborate training and financial networks developed by the subversives.  If Britain ever does find itself under Islamist attack, confronting a danger worse than that of 1940, then the only fit verdict that should be rendered upon that nation would be one of suicide—perhaps with the qualification of “while operating under a disturbed mind.” 

This behavior in a foreign nation facing such a threat is quite inconceivable—or would be, if every word of this critique did not apply with equal force to our own United States of America.