Until recently, the English city of Leicester was definitely not the sort of place that attracted tourists.  It was a generic English town, neither a beneficiary of a high-tech boom, nor (especially) a victim of industrial collapse.  Its sense of Midland stolidity was reflected in the city’s motto: Semper Eadem, always the same.

Over the past few years, though, Leicester has become a model city of sorts, as the best argument Europe can offer for racial integration and multiculturalism.  This claim makes Leicester the obvious center for conferences and training programs; each new wave of urban rioting elsewhere in the United Kingdom brings hundreds of cops and bureaucrats to Leicester to see how things are done right.  Leicester is a melting pot in miniature, in which all races and religions work happily together.  And that image lasted until early this year, when stories from Leicester started showing that things had gone horribly wrong on the multicultural front.  Leicester may indeed be a model for some new kind of social pattern, in the United States as well as Europe—but not one the city fathers are going to be too proud of.

In the 1970’s, Leicester became a principal destination for South Asian migrants, particularly those kicked out of Uganda by the tyrannical Idi Amin.  To much local anger, an Asian community became rooted here and grew rapidly, so that by 2010, Leicester should become the first British city in which whites form a minority.  (That condition will apply throughout England by the end of the present century).  Still, resentment cooled when the great majority of the Asians turned out to be hard-working, family-oriented people who consistently acted like the best stereotypes of white Middle England.  Asian families became popular when they took over corner stores and newspaper shops that would otherwise have died and thereby kept alive a great many shopping streets and commercial centers.  By the 1990’s, significant anti-Asian racism was all but dead, save the efforts of a few hardcore militants who could be dismissed as outside troublemakers.  Leicester has largely escaped the urban rioting of Britain’s recent long, hot summers.

Race-relations activists began citing the city as a kind of utopia that proved whites should not fear immigration or integration.  American readers encountered this argument in a lyrical article by Warren Hoge, published in the New York Times under the evocative title “British City Defines Diversity and Tolerance” (February 8, 2001).  Each paragraph lauded Leicester’s triumph over prejudice—Asian students having no acquaintance with racism or harassment, assertions that “Leicester defines itself as the tolerant, multicultural city of Europe.”  As Hoge writes,

A typical sight in Leicester are Gothic churches with stone crosses or Victorian-period red brick mills and factory buildings, now converted to Muslim community halls, Sikh and Hindu temples or small business centers.

The Leicester model was such an evident triumph that Hoge recommended it for everyone.  He concluded by reporting an Asian father who quoted his teenaged daughters: “Now when we go to parts of England that are white bastions, they’re saddened at the absence of anyone from the Indian subcontinent.”  And they all lived happily ever after.

Obviously, this tale contains a “but,” and this past January, multicultural Leicester was forced to deal with a qualification of some magnitude.  In the space of three days, British police arrested 17 Leicester Muslims, charging them with being activists for the global terrorist network Al Qaeda.  Nor were these small fry, enthusiastic fans enchanted by those incredible posters we see on television news of Osama bin Laden sporting on his shoulder images of Bert from Sesame Street.  For some years, Leicester’s Islamic community has been home to a major group of Al Qaeda recruiters and organizers.  Many were Algerian, and they formed an integral part of the network that organized the September 11 attacks.  Leicester was also a center for the fanatical Islamist group Takfir-wal-Hijra (“Anathema and Exile”).  One of the major prizes arrested in the Leicester raids was Algerian Kamel Daoudi, allegedly a computer specialist for this group.  Another detainee was reputedly an Al Qaeda financier.

For these activists, Leicester was one familiar stop on a route that included London, Birmingham, Madrid, Paris, and a dozen other centers in Europe and the Middle East.  The key organizer was Algerian Djamel Beghal, who, according to the Independent,

apparently cultivated young Muslims through a local mosque [in Leicester].  He also quietly built up the network of supporters among foreign émigrés, who used the local Indian and Pakistani communities as cover.

Specifically, Beghal is accused of recruiting both British “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid and would-be September 11 hijacker Zacarias Mousaaoui.  What exactly was going on in those “Muslim community halls” touted by Hoge?

Whether Leicester still has fighters preparing for attacks has not been proved, but the town clearly has been a European center for terrorist infrastructure, financial dealings, supplies, and concealing fugitives.  Just how broad local support runs is not clear.  Last November, however, during the U.S. air attacks on Afghanistan, Muslims represented the great majority of some 2,500 protesters who joined an antiwar demonstration in Leicester.  Most were from the Highfields section, which was also the scene of the January police raids.

Public reaction to these events in England has been startling.  While it is not surprising that police would be sounding the alarm, some of the loudest concerns have been expressed by the traditional organs of left-liberalism.  The London Observer, for instance, published a detailed investigation under the title “How Bin Laden Network Spread Its Tentacles” (January 20), reporting that “a burgeoning number of Islamist terror suspects [are] detained as the UK wakes up to its enemy within.”  The article continues,

The lesson now appears clear.  There are al-Qaeda links from Brighton to Bolton, from Scotland to Slough.  The idea that Islamic extremism was limited to a few loud-mouthed polemicists in north and west London has been shown to be nothing more than a comforting fallacy.

Britain was apparently swarming with “Binmen,” followers of bin Laden.  (The term is a groaning pun on “bin-men,” the British term for garbage collectors.)  The Independent headlined “How al-Qa’ida’s web of terror led from Afghanistan to Leicester.”

The Observer was damning with regard to police and intelligence neglect of these very dangerous groups, a neglect that was largely political.  Police and governments wanted to avoid inflaming Muslim organizations and being accused of civil-rights violations.  Nobody wanted to face the wrath of outraged Muslim “community leaders” protesting arrests.  (How much easier it is to let sleeping cells lie.)  The Observer concluded, however, that following recent revelations, “Politicians and policemen alike are aware of the risks—but say the stakes are too high to hold back.”  Reading this sort of thing in the Observer is almost like finding the Nation or the National Catholic Reporter urging the FBI to detain all Arab-Americans forthwith and to ignore any whining from ACLU pinkos.

In the aftermath of the police raids, older news articles make distinctly odd reading: “British City Defines Diversity and Tolerance,” indeed.  One reason integration has worked so relatively well in Leicester is that the great bulk of the nonwhite communities belong to religious groups that have no particular grievance against British or Western culture.  They want nothing more than to be left alone to live in peace and good order and to make as good a living as they can.  This is clearly true of Hindus and Sikhs, both of whom have potent historical and political grounds for opposing Muslim extremism.  The reason Sikhs survive at all is that their ancestors simply became too tough for their Muslim neighbors to annihilate.

Muslim immigrants in Europe also largely seem to be concerned with living their lives in peace, but Muslims differ substantially from other traditions in that modern Islam has a radical wing that is utterly opposed to every aspect of Western culture and prepared to fight savagely to achieve its goals.  The point may sound obvious, but it is one we neglect at our peril.  As a community, Muslims in the West are simply different from other ethnic and religious groups, since they contain deeply sinister and well-organized elements who have to be sought out and destroyed.  The worst mistake Westerners could make would be to ignore radical Islamic activism through oversensitivity to the threat of giving offense on the grounds of race or religion.  Pretending that everyone is living happily side by side in merry multicultural Britain is fine as public relations, so long as preserving that image does not force the authorities to hold off on vital investigations into groups that threaten the lives of thousands of people.

Of course, every word here applies with equal force to the United States, where it is the grossest heresy to suggest that any single ethnic or religious group might pose a problem as a group.  Remember the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, when Bill Clinton dismissed the bombing as the work of “a few people who did something stupid”?  He was trying to prevent vigilante attacks against Muslims on American soil, and, to that extent, his aim was worthy.  In practice, though, pretending that organized extremism did not exist meant that federal authorities were prohibited from investigating leads that would have led them beyond the narrow band of perpetrators.  Such inquiries would probably have exposed Islamist networks operating within the United States.  If you don’t look, you won’t find.  To use the British phrase, Clinton’s statement was a “comforting fallacy.”

Some people have suggested that the English language needs a word to indicate the opposite of “paranoia” and propose coining the term pronoia, the delusional belief that people are not out to get you.  The lesson of Leicester is that we have been suffering from a very bad case of collective pronoia.