Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 16 July 2005

The cumulative effect of words is just as poisonous as ricin, and more easily disseminated

Text settings

On the whole, I believe in what politicians like to call ‘the innate good sense of the British people’, but the reactions of so many friends to last week’s bombings depress me. There is a funny mixture of complacency — ‘We will always be stronger than they are’ — with fatalism — ‘There’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.’ Both are wrong. Islamist extremists could not beat us in a direct war, but they will undermine our way of life if they can exercise a hold over a growing Muslim population. Already, according to the Muslim Council of Britain’s own figures, Muslims will account for ‘well over a quarter’ of the growth of the working population from 1999 to 2009, and much of this will concentrate on London. After last week’s events, there can be few white couples with children in London who have not at least considered moving out. Eventually, the capital becomes a religious/ ethnic conflict zone where the authorities are forced to do deals with the extremists to keep any semblance of order. As for what we can do, there’s plenty. It seems that eight serious attacks have been foiled by the authorities’ vigilance since September 11, so the fact that one was not stopped does not mean that none can be. We can also create a climate intolerant of those whose words give cover to terrorism. At present, we appease. ‘We can still talk about it!’ we say, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t do it!’ Those were the last words of the Dutch film-maker, Theo Van Gogh, as he was murdered by a Muslim fanatic on the streets of Amsterdam.

Another thing said is, ‘But most of the Muslims I come across are sweet, peaceful people.’ True, at least in my experience, but the unanswered question is, how can the sweet, peaceful people best be empowered? One could demand answers from British Muslim leaders to some hard questions. Will they condemn the Muslim rule which says that believers who apostasise should be killed? Will they condemn the killing and kidnapping of all British citizens, including troops in Iraq? Will they state that all suicide bombing is unIslamic? Will they issue fatwahs against Osama bin Laden and others who preach terror in the name of Islam? Could anyone who refused to do any of these things be considered a good citizen of this country?

If you look at the websites, you get a sense of the boiling state of Muslim debate. Islam Online, for example, is the vehicle of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader based in Qatar who wants all Israelis killed and was welcomed to London last year by Ken Livingstone. It carries pieces and messages about how the London bombers were only exercising the ‘right to retaliate’, how Tony Blair (‘the real murderer’) himself ordered the bombings, how all Christians should be driven out of all Muslim countries, and how bin Laden is a ‘good-hearted Muslim’, many of them deploying remarks by white liberals to back up their views. These are by no means the only voices, but they are loud and numerous, and they speak boldly, as if they feared neither the strictures of their own community nor arrest from the civil power. The cumulative effect of such words is just as poisonous as ricin, and more easily disseminated.

Can the nation tolerate more than one person called Blair in public life? Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has surely been invented by a satirist. Just as the police used to have a stock of stolid phrases — ‘rotten apples’, ‘a record as long as your arm’, ‘proceeding in a northerly direction’ etc. — now they have a supply of politically correct ones. Sir Ian is always talking about ‘issues around’ things, how he wants the Met to be ‘customer-shaped’, and the exciting fact that London is ‘the most diverse city on the planet’. It is true that this diversity brings many advantages to the capital, but it also makes it much more likely that Londoners will be killed, as happened last week. Sir Ian’s refusal to see any link between Islam and terrorism means that one can have no operational confidence in him. It is rather as if he said there was no link between Jamaicans and drug-dealing, or teenagers and binge-drinking. In all cases, most people in those categories would not be involved, and yet you could not begin to tackle such crimes unless you understood that some of them were and that this reflected something about the state of their culture. At his press conference on the day after the bombs, Sir Ian was asked some questions about the emergency services and he rounded off his answer by saying self-righteously — ‘And they’re doing it for YOU!’ But is Sir Ian doing it for us? Londoners have no power over his appointment or dismissal, and his readiness to believe accusations of racism against his own white officers (see the recent employment tribunal case where he was found to have ‘hung them out to dry’) makes one question his fairmindedness. He doesn’t look customer-shaped to me.

How diverse can diversity be, by the way? Sir Ian won’t send dogs into the religious areas of mosques, for instance, because dogs upset Muslims. His main spokesman over the bombings, however, is Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick, the famous gay policeman. One thing that Muslims hate much more than dogs is homosexuals.

The funniest thing one’s friends say is, ‘You shouldn’t criticise Muslims for extremism: it’s a peaceful religion.’ Then they look worried and add, ‘Besides, you’ll get death threats if you go on.’

There has been a bit of a last-minute panic among Muslim leaders that the religious hatred Bill for which they have been calling might actually inhibit some of their own fruitier remarks. Muslim Weekly reports that a delegation from the Muslim Council of Britain recently went to see the Home Office minister Paul Goggins about this delicate problem. Their preferred solution was to ask for the Koran and the hadith to be specifically excluded from the provisions of the Act. The Home Office didn’t fall for it, though, which I feel is rather a pity, since its acceptance would neatly have demonstrated to everyone the utter absurdity of the Bill and the special pleading that lies behind it.

Don’t worry, though: everything’s going to be all right. Josep Borrell, President of the European Parliament, says that Luxembourg’s Yes to the European constitution last weekend recognises that we need ‘more of Europe [i.e., more European integration] to better guarantee the safety of Europeans’. Yes, Luxembourgers will be ‘the Few’ in the coming Battle of Europe.