The Sunday Times - London

November 4, 2001

Britain ignores the angry Muslims within at its peril

Melanie Phillips

As if the progress of the Afghan war wasn't enough to worry about, a nightmare spectre is emerging at home. The attitude of many British Muslims should cause the greatest possible alarm that we have a fifth column in our midst.

Six young British Muslims have been reported killed in Afghanistan, and there are claims that hundreds of others have similarly gone to enlist in the war against the West. These numbers may well be an exaggeration. In any event, as the Taliban have indicated, such raw recruits are as likely as not to be a wholly unwanted encumbrance. But it's the views expressed by many of their fellow religionists in Britain that are so disturbing.

Of course, Muslims are as entitled to question or criticise the bombing campaign as are Labour MPs such as Paul Marsden or George Galloway. But their opinions call into question their very identification as British citizens. Mohammed Abdullah, a 22-year-old accountant from Luton, told The Times: "We don't perceive ourselves as British Muslims. We are Muslims who live in Britain. All Muslims in Britain view supporting the jihad as a religious duty."

Other Muslims insist these views are unrepresentative. But are they? A Sunday Times survey has found that four out of 10 British Muslims believe Osama Bin Laden is justified in mounting his war against the United States. A similar number say that Britons who choose to fight alongside the Taliban are right to do so. In another opinion poll, conducted for the Asian radio station Sunrise, 98% of London Muslims under 45 said they would not fight for Britain, while 48% said they would take up arms for Bin Laden.

All around one hears Muslims saying the same thing: that any attack on Muslims is an attack on Islam, against which self-defence is legitimate. This easily slips into justifying violence against those trying to defeat Islamic terror. It also reveals that for these Muslims their principal allegiance is not to Britain; indeed, they present themselves as in a kind of state of war against it.

This is fantastically dangerous. Such people don't need to go to Afghanistan to fight. With Bin Laden calling Muslims across the world to arms in "defence" of their brothers, can anyone doubt how easy it would be for some of these impressionable and hysterical youths to be recruited to poison the air supply of a public building or perform some other act of terrorism here?

As the country digests the nature of this threat, there are huge dangers for all those exemplary Muslims here whose principal allegiance, by contrast, is to Britain. As one wrote last week, Muslims were experiencing increased suspicion, racist abuse and physical attack as people wondered whether mosques were breeding places for Islamic terrorists and "purveyors of a virulent form of Islamic fascism". Indeed, he wrote, he himself was wondering the same thing.

So how should our liberal society react? As Lord Rooker, the Home Office minister, correctly observed last week, anyone who takes up arms abroad against this country and then returns should be tried for treason. But what about all those remaining here who are also declaring their hatred of Britain?

Liberals have a noble aversion to regarding any of their fellow citizens as the enemy within. And repressive laws would be a kind of victory for terror. But a population that is living in fear of its own citizens is also a victory for terror, as of course would be any destruction of life by an actual terrorist outrage.

The problem is that our society is in denial. The fact that we are fighting a war has not sunk in; indeed, in many quarters the notion is actively resisted. But we are - and a country at war simply cannot tolerate treachery. The stakes are just too high.

So what to do? Both Muslims and the host community have got to change their attitudes dramatically - and fast. It's not enough for moderate Muslims to say their interpretation of Islam is the majority view. They've got to show this is true by putting their house in order. If they really are in the majority, then let's hear them deal robustly with the minority who have hijacked their religion.

For they have to make a choice. Islam is a proselytising religion that does not distinguish between the spiritual and the temporal. So allegiance to Islam takes precedence over loyalty to a non-Muslim state. What makes this so explosive is the huge number of Muslims in the rest of the world and the power gained for Islam from terror-promoting states such as Syria or Iran.

Now moderate British Muslims must choose. If, as they claim, they accept that British citizenship means primary allegiance to Britain, they must state unequivocally that the first duty of British Muslims is not to the global Islamic nation. They must throw out those imams who, by preaching that the war against the Taliban is like Hitler's invasion of Europe, are inciting their young men to treachery. If their religion has been misrepresented by a minority, the moderates can no longer just wring their hands about it. They must prove that the reasonable majority is in control.

As for the host community, it must start taking seriously the widespread hatred of Britain among the Muslim young. That means not merely arresting all those who incite violence, whether in the mosques or in the schools, through publications or the internet. It also means that unless the Muslim community cleans up its act, the police and intelligence services have got to be consistently on its back. Anything else would be the most culpable negligence.

At the same time, liberal Britain has got to get real and ditch the multiculturalism that is now a menace to life and liberty. Its proponents have consistently denigrated and denied British values. Now they wring their hands at Muslim separatism. They have told Muslims they are victims of British institutional racism. Now they listen with horror to the grotesque justification of violence by the "victims" of western imperialism. They have sneered at patriotism as xenophobic. Now they are amazed that Muslims are declaring - to paraphrase Wilfred Owen - that "dulce et decorum est pro sharia mori".

Multiculturalism is now imploding under the weight of its own contradictions. Those who have created this moral and cultural wasteland are running around shrieking that this wasn't what they meant at all. Look at the way Muslims treat their women, they bleat. Look at the way they want to stop sex education in schools. Unless Muslims manage to accept what it means to be a minority culture, they will find that those leading the charge against their freedom to practise any Islamic values at all will be these so-called liberals, spitting hatred against all religion.

These foolish people have mightily reinforced Islamic separatism. It is hard to exaggerate the damage this has done and the danger it has put us all in. Thousands of alienated young Muslims, most of them born and bred here but who regard themselves as an army within, are waiting for an opportunity to help to destroy the society that sustains them. We now stare into the abyss, aghast.

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