Last month, the British government controversially refused entry to Geert Wilders, enforcing a ban it had placed on the Dutch parliamentarian for his anti-Islam film, Fitna. While Britain works to eliminate the “threat” from the critics of Islam, however, the British government is facing a far greater peril from the spread of radical Islam on its own territory.
The CIA reportedly has warned President Obama that Islamic extremists living in the United Kingdom are now viewed as the greatest threat to the United States. “Around 40 per cent of CIA activity on homeland threats is now in the UK. This is quite unprecedented,” one British official was quoted as saying in The Telegraph.
Further heightening the threat, these extremists are becoming ever more connected with overseas terrorist networks. Dozens of British citizens are believed to have traveled to Somalia, to fight alongside Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic militants seeking to seize the country from the current government. The Somali militants are reportedly receiving funding from the large Somali community in the United Kingdom. British Muslims have also been providing Taliban forces in Afghanistan with bomb parts, while others are thought to have joined the battlefield and fought against the British military.
Britain’s terrorist networks are vast. According to a joint intelligence report by Britain’s Defense Ministry, MI5 and Special Branch, there are thousands of terrorism supporters in the country. These findings echo an earlier warning from the director of MI-5 that there were at least 2,000 people in the country identified as posing a threat to national security. “It is also estimated that there are some 200 terrorist networks functioning in Britain today who are involved in at least 30 plots,” The Telegraph reported in November 2008.
The pool of potential terrorist recruits appears to be growing. In 2008, the non-partisan Center for Social Cohesion released a poll of 1,400 Muslim students in the United Kingdom and found some frightening results. While there was strong support for some moderate beliefs – including the notion that Islam is compatible with democracy and support for gender equality – some 24 percent felt that Allah did not view males and females equally, and 33 percent favored the construction of “a worldwide Caliphate based on Sharia law.”
Sharia law, indeed, already has found purchase on British soil. For example, the British judicial system must now enforce the decisions of Sharia-based courts. Although participation in the Sharia system is voluntary, similar to accommodations made for orthodox Jews, such parallel courts are bound to conflict with the values of the Western system of justice. They also serve as the infrastructure necessary for Islamist leaders to institute Sharia law in Britain’s Muslim communities. Hence there is understandable concern that some Muslim citizens, particularly women, will be forced “voluntarily” to submit to this form of justice, lest they be labeled apostates.
Younger generations of Muslims make up another concern. The websites of some Muslim schools have been found to be promoting extremist thinking and have pushed children to isolate themselves from the surrounding culture and society. Some websites denounced Harry Potter, chess, Monopoly, Ludo, draughts and even cricket as un-Islamic and one even linked to a website that promoted jihad. Another website claimed that women should remain indoors and that rape victims shared partial blame for their attack. This type of teaching contributes to the lack of assimilation that fuels radicalism and leads to creation of “No-Go Zones” – essentially, Muslim states within states shut off from mainstream British society.
The British government’s reaction to the Islamist offensive has largely been to placate the most radical voices in the Islamic community. Thus, the government has gone to great lengths to make sure that “those who want to spread extremism” by criticizing Islam, like Geert Wilders, don’t set foot inside Britain. By refusing entry to Wilders, the British government won the praise of the Muslim Council of Britain, which was co-founded by Muslim Brotherhood member Kamal Helbawy, a supporter of Hamas who said in 1992, “Do not take Jews and Christians as allies, for they are allies to each other.” Ironically, Helbawy himself was denied entry into the United States in 2006.
While standing up to Western “extremists” like Wilders, UK authorities have not been nearly so strident in stopping those who preach hatred in the name of Islam. A Lebanese journalist named Ibrahim Moussawi, who has acted as a spokesperson for Hezbollah and worked for their Al-Manar television station, is now being given permission to visit the United Kingdom – this despite the fact that, in 2002, he was quoted in The New Yorker decrying Jews as “a lesion on the forehead of history.”
In a dark twist, the government’s accommodationist policy has undermined the very Islamic moderates it is intended to empower. The Quilliam Foundation, a moderate Muslim group dedicated to fighting extremism, opposed the decision to ban Wilders, saying that “freedom of speech should be protected” and challenging Wilders to a debate on Islam. Yet these moderate Muslims, whose own lives serve as rebuttals to Wilders’ arguments, have found themselves on the opposite side of the British government. As a result, they were robbed of a chance to air their version of Islam, which might have countered the Islamic extremism espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood and their ilk.
Thanks to its current outreach, the British government has only encouraged the more extreme elements in the Muslim community. The long-term consequences of that approach are likely to be the continued radicalization of the UK’s Muslim population and the rise of sectarian voices who will one day seek far more than the banning of a prominent critic of Islam.