The Britishness of the London bombers brings a shocking new urgency to our recent debates on immigration and integration. What the events surely demonstrate are the limits of the laissez-faire multiculturalism that characterised minority politics at the time the bombers were growing up. As Aatish Taseer argues inside, if you offer your new citizens no clear sense of the country they are joining, and their welcome place in it, do not be surprised if they shift their allegiance somewhere else—especially if they are Muslims at a time of upheaval in the Muslim world.
Thanks to David Blunkett, Trevor Phillips and others, we now have a liberal-integrationist language—the beginnings of a French-style ideology of common citizenship—with which to address the problem of ethnic enclaves. (Whether we are doing anything about it is another question: are young Somalis now growing up as detached from the values of wider British society as the Pakistani bombers?) The quid pro quo is that the liberal state makes a reality of equal citizenship for its minorities. And on that score, as both Kamran Nazeer and Ehsan Masood argue, Britain has a decent record towards Muslims since 1997.
There will always be confused young people, like our interview subject Hassan Butt, who are attracted to messianic politics. Indeed, he is a recognisable cousin of the rebels without a cause who stalked British universities in the 1970s. Like those Marxists, the Islamists are often displaced children of the middle class. They find a kind of romance not in world socialism but in Pakistani diaspora identity politics and the global umma.
The problem now is not Hassan Butt and the very few like him, but the many who loosely sympathise with them. This is where mainstream Muslim politics is part of the problem. With its one-note grievance politics, its paranoid “war against Muslims” worldview and literalist theology, it teaches too many Muslims to feel embattled in British society. The London bombs must mark a reappraisal of that discourse. The calm public and media response to the bombs may help; there seems, as yet, to be no serious backlash. There are however difficult questions ahead about how far the state can and should meddle in Muslim affairs; how far integration requires the curtailing of chain migration; whether, as Hassan Butt alleges (not necessarily correctly), Britain is still too open to undesirable outsiders and whether the Human Rights Act is…