Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lee Rigby

Does Britain Feel No Shame at the Killing of James Foley?

As more facts emerge about the horrible murder of U.S. journalist James Foley, it looks increasingly likely that his killers were three British jihadists. With Britain’s longstanding export-jihad now making some serious headlines you might have thought that the national debate in Britain would by now have become a storm of outrage and shame. But you wold be wrong.

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As more facts emerge about the horrible murder of U.S. journalist James Foley, it looks increasingly likely that his killers were three British jihadists. With Britain’s longstanding export-jihad now making some serious headlines you might have thought that the national debate in Britain would by now have become a storm of outrage and shame. But you wold be wrong.

Observers have warned that the British fighters for the Islamic State are among the most vicious and brutal, and yet there is no sense of shame or culpability gnawing away at the British soul, despite the havoc and terror that British jihadists are causing in Iraq and Syria. The news reporting is procedural, the politicians sound tired, apathy permeates the conversation every time the subject is raised. The only time that any flicker of alarm or interest can be detected is when it is pointed out that these people, hardened by battle and radical Islam, might return to Britain to continue their fight from the streets of British cities.

Even then, those in power plead powerlessness, running through a list of excuses as to why it won’t be so easy to prevent the jihadists from coming home to roost. Yet given that these individuals have joined an enemy fighting force, it is not at all clear why Western countries won’t simply strip these individuals of their citizenship in absentia. After all, with the shootings at the Jewish school in Toulouse and the Jewish museum in Brussels, we have already seen just how dangerous European Islamists returning from jihad can be.

There was of course serious public outrage in 2013 when two British Muslims murdered the soldier Lee Rigby on a south London sidewalk one quiet afternoon in May. Even then, however, the national debate was rapidly reoriented from discussing the culture and community that the killers had emerged from to instead initiating a wave of handwringing and finger pointing about whether the backlash to the murder had been Islamophobic.

Not only did the British public stand accused of having reacted with hatred to Rigby’s murder, but for many left-wing commentators, they also stood accused of having caused the murder through their Islamophobia. And once again, inasmuch as anyone is undertaking any soul searching at all over what British born Muslims are perpetrating in Iraq and Syria, there are those who are attempting to suggest British society has driven these young men to jihadism by alienating and discriminating against them.

So far this accusation has not stuck. But Britain must recognize that it does indeed bear culpability for the fact that British bred jihadists have murdered an American journalist in Iraq. Britain has alienated its young Muslims, but not through bigotry and Isamophobia. For decades Muslim immigrants experienced no more hostility than the many others who made their way to Britain from the former colonies.

The reality is that ever since the early 1990s, British authorities embraced an ethos of multiculturalism that told immigrant groups that they should not integrate into the British way of life. The message was either that there was no such thing as British culture, just a conglomeration of other cultures, or that British culture was backward and not of any value. From schools, to local government, to social workers, the message was parroted that immigrant groups should embrace and reinforce their own cultures.

The fruits of this flawed policy of wilful alienation was the milieu from which Britain’s jihad export industry would eventually emerge. Britain must take responsibility for this, and for the fact that for years it has been the most conservative and hardline Muslim groups that the British government has empowered with the mantle of communal leadership, often misguidedly embracing these people as the chief representatives of the entire Islamic population in Britain. Indeed, even today politicians praise Muslim community leaders for allegedly working tirelessly to combat radicalization among their youth. And yet, with more British Muslims off on jihad than serving in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, one wonders just how much praise is really in order.

Following the news of the murder of James Foley a woman named Kadijah Dare took to the Internet to declare her intention to become the first female to behead a westerner in Syria. Ms. Dare hails from Lewisham in east London. Britain should feel a deep sense of shame that this is what it is exporting to the world. And along with shame it is about time that the British public expressed the kind of outrage that will force noticeable and substantial action against the subculture that is generating this horror.

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The UK’s Spiteful Double Standard

Sometimes it helps to restate the obvious. So when Jack Straw, who served as a minister for both domestic and foreign affairs in Tony Blair’s Labor government in the UK, recently told an audience at a literary festival that the “point about living in a democracy is that you have to put up with people expressing views you really disagree with,” he struck exactly the right note in a country still traumatized by the brutal murder, in broad daylight on a south London street, of a British soldier by an Islamist fanatic.

Sadly, Straw’s observation was not heeded by his successor as Home Secretary, Theresa May, who announced today that two prominent American opponents of Islam, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, have been banned from entering the UK. The pair had been due to address a rally convened by the English Defense League, an extremist right-wing organization, this Friday in the same neighborhood where the soldier, Lee Rigby, met his gruesome end.

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Sometimes it helps to restate the obvious. So when Jack Straw, who served as a minister for both domestic and foreign affairs in Tony Blair’s Labor government in the UK, recently told an audience at a literary festival that the “point about living in a democracy is that you have to put up with people expressing views you really disagree with,” he struck exactly the right note in a country still traumatized by the brutal murder, in broad daylight on a south London street, of a British soldier by an Islamist fanatic.

Sadly, Straw’s observation was not heeded by his successor as Home Secretary, Theresa May, who announced today that two prominent American opponents of Islam, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, have been banned from entering the UK. The pair had been due to address a rally convened by the English Defense League, an extremist right-wing organization, this Friday in the same neighborhood where the soldier, Lee Rigby, met his gruesome end.

One does not have to an admirer of Geller and Spencer–to my mind, their views are terrifyingly shrill and bigoted–in order to consider this decision outrageous. The letter which Geller received from the Home Office informed her that she was being excluded by the “British government’s measures for excluding or deporting extremists under the Unacceptable Behaviour policy.” It expressed concern at two remarks made by Geller, one in which she equated Islam with al-Qaeda, the other in which she claimed that the survival of Muslims depends on “constant jihad,” before concluding that her espousal of such views on UK soil would not be “conducive to the public good.”

No explanation was offered as to exactly how Geller and Spencer’s presence in Britain might “foment or justify terrorist violence” or “foster hatred that might lead to inter-community violence in the UK.” There will be those who argue that their sledgehammer rhetoric encourages violence, but that same slippery logic could be applied to almost anyone, including the myriad Islamist organizations for whom the UK is a convenient base. According to Student Rights, a British group that monitors Islamist extremism in universities, over the last year speakers with “a history of extreme or intolerant views” addressed meetings at 60 different institutions, many of which were gender-segregated. 

Is it, then, reasonable to accuse the UK government of operating a double standard, especially as there is a long-standing anxiety that the policy of keeping out Muslim extremists is faltering? It’s true that Geller and Spencer are not the first rabble-rousers to be banned from Britain. Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, was famously prohibited from entering the country back in 1986, a decision which led to a 20-year court battle that finally resulted, in 2008, in the ban against him being upheld. Similarly, the Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi was eventually banned in 2008, four years after he was feted by the then mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, a key proponent of an alliance between the far left and Islamist organizations.

The problem with these bans, however, is that they are reactive–and frequently imposed after the offending individual has spent substantial time in the UK. For example, Omar Bakri Mohammed spent several years in the UK advocating jihadist violence against Jews, gays and other groups before being deported to Lebanon, while the Jordanian-born cleric Abu Qatada still remains in Britain despite government efforts to have him thrown out once and for all. In marked contrast, neither Geller nor Spencer has a criminal past, nor a track record of involvement with groups promoting violence. Their sole offense appears to be the promulgation of ideas and beliefs that are indecent–exactly the sorts of beliefs that any healthy democracy should be able to withstand in the name of freedom of speech.

The real challenge for Britain is that extremism of all stripes is homegrown. Just as the EDL doesn’t need Geller and Spencer to promote its message, neither do British Islamists–whose proclivity for violence has been amply demonstrated over the last decade, from the London subway bombings of 2005 to the murder of Lee Rigby this year–require foreign-born clerics to fire up their own supporters.

In the weeks since Rigby’s death, the country has engaged in a furious debate about whether to ban Islamist preachers from the airwaves and block Islamist websites. As Shiraz Maher and Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens of London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation pointed out in their paper “Jihad at Home,” the case of a Muslim couple arrested for conspiring to attack Jewish targets in the north of England:

highlights the ongoing threat of ‘self-radicalisation’ through the internet, and the continued influence of jihadist publications, such as Inspire magazine, which are aimed at Westerners.  It also demonstrates the lingering potency of deceased ideologues such as Anwar al-Awlaki, whose ideas continue to present a challenge to Western security agencies.

Banning Geller and Spencer will not mollify those British Muslims already on the path to self-radicalization. Nor is it likely to end the disturbing spate of attacks on mosques in the wake of Lee Rigby’s killing. The main result of Theresa May’s decision will be to make British democracy look weak and spiteful at precisely the time it needs to look strong and confident.

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