The London Metropolitan Police have long had an official, national counterterrorist role and were prominent in the fight against the I.R.A. But there is not yet a consensus on what the police role ought to be in the fight against Islamist terrorism. Are they there to take the fight to the malefactors, assuming they can find them, through hard-edged tactics ranging from surveillance to raids? Or are they there to keep the peace and listen, particularly in minority neighborhoods, minimizing the discontent, insecurity and alienation on which terrorism feeds? "Communities defeat terrorism" has become the mantra of the police under Sir Ian Blair (no relation to the prime minister), who has been commissioner since early last year. …The writer, Christopher Caldwell, describes the traditional — and maybe still current — attitude that has created "Londonistan."
By the end of this year, he hopes to have set up hundreds of Safer Neighborhoods teams, … which mix traditional bobby work with a bit of cultural translation. Commissioner Blair aspires to kill two birds with one stone — enhancing police familiarity with the most intimate corners of dangerous neighborhoods while winning the trust of communities that often feel left out of the main current of British life. But, as in the London of Hogarth and Mayhew, the borderline between cultural variety and dangerous criminality can be a fuzzy one.
Britons have a strong rhetorical attachment to liberty, as something for which a certain price in danger and disorder is worth paying. When I asked [David] Blunkett [the former home secretary] if he accepted the idea that terrorists had enjoyed too many freedoms in London in the 1990's, he said, "Well, in the sense that Karl Marx moved to London, Britain has always had a tradition of taking in people oppressed in their own countries." This is a common view. Immigrant troublemakers are likened to Marx and Engels, and any difficulties welcoming whole groups are likened to those occasioned by the arrival of Russian Jews in the 19th century or of Huguenots in the 17th.But Marx and Engels didn't have financial, religious, cultural, and logistical connections or jet travel and instant communications linking them with a worldwide network of violent fanatics.
The Times piece shows the contradictions that the British ruling class (which is now mainly the media and politicians, not the old aristocrats) have forced on themselves in trying to put the damper on Muslim terrorism: they want to believe that the country's Muslims are their allies, so while they have put through some tougher laws and seem less reluctant to allow police raids, they go the last mile to convince Muslim communities that the police and the government are their friends. Thus, they expect, the proverbial 99.99percentofordinaryhardworkingdecentMuslims will "grass" on the tiny number of violent extremists.
On paper it sounds fair and sensible — the only trouble is it's not congruent with reality. The strategy is a product of today's non-Muslim Brits, who've been raised on a bizarre mixture of social engineering and American-style capitalism, and have trouble getting their heads around anything but scientific, technical, and economic issues, sports, and celebrities. They take pride in being utterly reasonable, which puts them at a terrible disadvantage in dealing with their countrymen who take cultural cues from parts of the world where tribalism is the template, and where life is traditionally short and brutal. And, of course, they're a universe away from Britons who not only believe in their religion (which not many British do anymore) but for whom it trumps everything else.
Today, British authorities are not much more confident of thwarting all plots, so they have erected a line of defense that is absorptive, not pre-emptive. It rests on harmony between social groups and on the country's ability to suffer atrocities from time to time, as it did during the heyday of the I.R.A., without escalating unrest or oppression, or the rise of extremist parties.But the IRA, which at its worst never tried to sink Britain in a worldwide Ireland, was basically an external threat even when it was expressing its thoughts by blowing up shopgirls and pub customers in England. Britain's most dangerous enemies are among its own citizens, the ones the government is trying to woo. Even now, it's officially taboo to acknowledge that the U.K. made a terrible mistake in promoting large-scale immigration from Muslim countries. Having made the mistake, it should now at least be single minded in drawing the line against any form of incitement to violence, and no quid pro quo is needed. Protecting the innocent doesn't need to be balanced with appeasement.