British Prime Minister Theresa May’s remarks following Saturday night’s London Bridge attacks include one of the most forthright, perceptive, and necessary statements from an international leader (excepting President Trump) about the difficulties free societies face in combating terrorist acts committed by Muslims.
Specifically, these comments appear to recognize that these abominations are not simply the product of individuals having nothing whatever to do with their co-religionists, or with the supposedly peaceful, law-abiding, thoroughly assimilated – in other words, utterly unexceptional – communities they comprise. That is, May has closely approached stating that something is decidedly, and often dangerously, abnormal in too many of the Islamic neighborhoods and congregations found in the non-Islamic world, and particularly in the United Kingdom and in the rest of Europe.
As the Prime Minister declared, “While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is – to be frank – far too much tolerance of [Islamist extremism] in our country. So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out – across the public sector and across society. That will require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations, but the whole of our country needs to come together to take on this extremism – and we need to live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities but as one truly United Kingdom.”
That last clause is extraordinarily important. As I wrote in the wake of last month’s suicide bombing in Manchester, the United Kingdom has officially glorified multiculturalism to such a degree that it has encouraged in many ways the emergence of Muslim population clusters with considerable degrees of autonomy from even the legal system – let alone the values – that holds in the rest of the country.
May unmistakably has now attacked those policies, and by extension the assumption behind them: that many of the core teachings of Islam are no better and no worse than those developed in the British Isles throughout their long history. They are simply different. As a result, if certain Muslims living in Britain wish, say, to govern family life with the precepts of their faith rather than British law, they should enjoy ample freedom to do so. Indeed, denying them these rights in the absence of clear and present dangers to – to what, it’s not entirely clear; certainly not the freedoms enjoyed in Britain by other individuals, like women – would be the antithesis of liberty and tolerance.
Yesterday, May strongly suggested that in practice, this segregation has created major dangers at least to national security and public order. And she deserves immense credit for recognizing that, however “difficult and embarrassing” pluralistic democracies like her country may find creating a more united United Kingdom, a concerted effort must not only be made – it must succeed.
Nevertheless, I worry that May herself is still a bit too embarrassed to identify the main problem. For along with describing the enemy belief system as “Islamist,” she also insisted that “It is an ideology that is a perversion of Islam.” Which, if you view as legitimate her alarm at segregated Muslim communities, is a little too neat.
After all, if extremist Islamism indeed “perverts” Islam, presumably this offense would be readily apparent to the vast majority of Muslims themselves. And not only would these segregated communities refuse to tolerate it, and be joining with the national authorities in “identifying it and stamping it out” (May’s own words, as per above). An outraged Muslim majority would be taking the lead in these matters.
But nothing could be more obvious than the general failure of Muslims anywhere to fit this description. Instead, as the Prime Minister herself complains, there has been “too much tolerance,” and the most dangerous manifestations are in those communities whose segregated nature produces Islam in a form relatively un-polluted by British and other non-Islamic values (whatever you suppose them to be).
So May has a ways to go before the clarification of thought that necessarily precedes any course of action with a reasonable hope for success. But she’s clearly much further along than much of the American leadership class. Take Susan E. Rice, national security adviser to former President Obama. On ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, she was asked about President Trump’s proposal to suspend travel to the United States from a handful of majority Muslim countries that the Obama administration itself viewed as either overrun with terrorists or ruled by terrorist-sponsoring regimes. She explained her continued opposition (which is also shared by her former boss) in part this way:
“[I] think there’s a very real risk that by stigmatizing and isolating Muslims from particular countries and Muslims in general that we alienate the very communities here in the United States whose cooperation we most need to detect and prevent these homegrown extremists from being able to carry out the attacks.”
Leave aside your views on the travel ban proposal for or against. First of all, I’ve never been comfortable with the suggestion just made above (and by so many others) that there’s something fundamentally acceptable about residents of the United States (and especially citizens) conditioning their cooperation with law enforcement authorities that are combating violence on whether or not they feel stigmatized in some way by Washington, or any level of government. Are you? And remember – nearly all Muslims resident in the United States live here legally, so it’s not as if they need fear deportation like so many illegal Hispanic residents, or Hispanics here legally here with illegal friends or relatives.
But more important is Rice’s obliviousness to a glaringly obvious implication of her statement: Why, in the first place, are Muslim communities “the very communities here in the United States whose cooperation we most need to detect and prevent…homegrown extremists from being able to carry out the attacks”? It’s because so many of the actual attackers and attacker wanna-bes are coming from those communities. Obviously something about them has gone seriously wrong.
I’m not saying I know exactly what needs to be done domestically on top of existing efforts, and how new programs can be squared with essential Constitutional protections. It’s also clear that the United States doesn’t have the kind of related assimilation-segregated communities problems plaguing the United Kingdom and so much of Europe. But I do know that the more solidly the more extreme versions of multiculturalism take root in America, the larger these problems will grow. And the sooner the British more explicitly acknowledge major problems among their compatriots who practice mainstream Islam, the faster they’ll restore acceptable levels of safety to their concert halls, historic bridges, and the rest of their country.