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The aftermath of the horrific Manchester bombing is seeing the reappearance of a familiar pattern that keeps dangerously muddling major issues. I’m talking about the tendency to emphasize that the suspect was a “homegrown” terrorist, not an immigrant or a refugee from a majority Muslim country. Therefore, this reasoning goes, responses that emphasize restricting immigration from such countries are at best misguided and at worst bigoted. The latter charge has even become a mainstay of the U.S. judicial system.

The dangers and fallacies of this analysis become clear upon reviewing the emergence of the United Kingdom as a major target of terrorist attacks from Muslim extremists and a major source of foreign fighters and other operatives in the Middle East and worldwide for Al Qaeda and ISIS. If these terrorists aren’t newcomers to the UK, you can be sure they were overwhelmingly homegrown in the country’s Muslim immigrant communities. And their numbers and destructiveness point to shocking British failures both to control the country’s borders adequately and to assimilate Muslims safely. More specifically, they reveal the perils of the British government’s determination starting in the 1980s, and especially in the 1990s, to make the establishment of an identity politics focused on Muslims a top national priority.

Spearheaded by former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his New Labour party, London dealt with the country’s Muslims as a group with official standing, represented in government councils by a national organization created to “represent mainstream Muslim opinion.” It provided safe haven for prominent jihadists wanted for terrorism by countries like Jordan and France. It permitted a network of Islamic religious law (sharia) courts to spread across the country and formally recognized some rulings involving divorce and other domestic issues. Perhaps most damaging in the long term, it offered “state funding for Muslim schools on the same basis as Christian and Jewish schools” and paid no attention to their curricula – many of which were developed by arch-fundamentalists from Saudi Arabia.

Among the results? As the British government reported after 2001 riots involving white and South Asian gangs in several northern industrial towns, these localities contained

“‘separate educational arrangements, community and voluntary bodies, employment, places of worship, language, social and cultural networks,’ producing living arrangements that ‘do not seem to touch at any point.’ As one Pakistani Briton told the report’s authors, ‘When I leave this meeting with you, I will go home and not see another white face until I come back here next week.’ Last year, Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, warned that much of Britain was ‘sleepwalking its way toward segregation.’ And this segregation is especially entrenched among Muslims.”

In addition, “A non-Muslim child who lives in a Muslim-majority area may now find herself attending a school that requires headscarves. The idea of separate schools for separate faiths—the idea that worked so beautifully in Northern Ireland—has meant that children are encouraged to think of themselves as belonging to a distinct religious ‘community’ rather than a nation.”

In fact, by July, 2005 – in the wake of an Islamist bombing of London’s Tube that claimed 52 innocent lives – even Blair had had enough. In major speech, he warned that anyone who did not “share and support the values that sustain the British way of life,” or who incite hatred against Britain and its people, “have no place here.” But the Manchester attack, and numerous smaller predecessors over the previous twelve years, indicate that his turnabout – which by all accounts had been ambivalently implemented – came too late to slow the destructive dynamics he set in motion.

Skeptics will rightly note that the British experience is a far cry from America’s, with the U.S. Muslim community – whether immigrant or homegrown – showing many fewer signs of dangerous radicalization. At the same time, identity politics has now become such a hallmark of one of the country’s two major political parties that even many of its leaders are warning about the consequences (though mainly at the ballot box). And the late British writer Christopher Hitchens wrote of what had by that time come ruefully to be called “Londonistan” by the time of the 2005 bombing, “It‘s impossible to exaggerate how far and how fast this situation has deteriorated.”

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