The response of most British Muslim leaders to the latest terror alert has been dismaying. It is one thing not to prejudge the outcome of police investigations, especially given recent blunders, but the defiant tone struck by so many spokesmen (even prominent liberals like Tahir Abbas), and the subject-changing to Lebanon or the lack of a public inquiry into 7/7, is enough to make one recall John Major’s infamous phrase: isn’t it time they condemned a little more and understood a little less? Or, in the language of our post-multicultural society, isn’t it time they responded a bit more as citizens and not so exclusively as Muslims?
Of course British foreign policy contributes to Muslim alienation and, at the margin, extremism. But the point is: should it? It is not obvious that policy is contrary to Muslim interests (whatever they are). Was it in Kosovo? Afghanistan? Even in Iraq, a secular dictator—and mass murderer of Muslims—has given way to an Islamic democracy, albeit a shaky one. Moreover, most violent loss of Muslim life today, from Iraq to Darfur, is Muslim on Muslim, as was the biggest Muslim tragedy of recent decades, 1m lost in the Iran-Iraq war.
Besides, even if British foreign policy were in some way contrary to Muslim interests, should 3 per cent of the British population—or, even worse, the few who take up terrorism—be allowed to dictate a change in that policy? Isn’t this just the sort of religious/ethnic lobby politics that is said, especially in the case of Israel’s lobby, to afflict US foreign policy?
The fact that so many mainstream Muslims share the beleaguered worldview of the extremists, while condemning their methods, is said by many to be proof of the failure of the government’s dialogue policy since 7/7. But it is hard to see what else a government can do, apart from talk. As Tariq Ramadan said in these pages recently, integrating Muslims is particularly hard. It is made harder still by turmoil in the global umma, and our self-inflicted wound: a multicultural politics that taught minorities to give priority to their racial and religious identities. But it is not all gloom. A British Muslim middle class is emerging, and with it symbols of successful integration—step forward England’s new fast-bowling star, Sajid Mahmood.