The Financial Times (UK) reported Wednesday that both officials in both the U.S. and France have been critical of what it called “official tolerance of radical foreign Muslims,” but added:  “The perception of British laxness in dealing with the issue is by no means universal.  ‘There are no liberal laws here,’ says an official of Amnesty International, the human rights organization.  ‘The U.K. has some of the most draconian emergency legislation in the whole western world.’”[1]  --  And some Arab commentators also made a telling point against post hoc propter hoc reasoning:  “Arab political activists warn that blaming last week’s attacks on London’s historic role as a refuge for dissidents is designed to divert attention from the real threat.  ‘There is no evidence that the liberal values here are a reason behind last week’s attacks,’ insists Saad Djebbar, a London-based Algerian lawyer.  ‘There are many countries that don’t allow any groups on their territory and have had the same terrorist attacks.’”  --  A background piece reviews London’s historic reputation as “a safe haven for radical political activists.”[2] ...



By Stephen Fidler, Jimmy Burns, and Roula Khalaf

Financial Times (UK)
July 13, 2005

Suicide attacks on London’s transport system a week ago by young Muslims who were born and grew up in Britain are prompting soul-searching inside and outside Britain’s Muslim community. The willingness of a few young men from Yorkshire to blow up their fellow citizens in their own capital -- more than a tenth of whose population is itself Muslim -- has opened up a debate that may produce far-reaching policy and other changes.

The bombings have also energized an international discussion about policy towards radical Muslims in Britain’s midst. Some U.S. officials think British official tolerance of radical foreign Muslims, many of whom have sought refuge from harsher regimes, sowed the seeds of Thursday’s bombings. A similar message has come out of France, where the authorities have taken a much harsher line than the British against radical Islamists, especially since bombings hit Paris in 1995.

Though those now known to have been behind the London attacks were British, it is not yet clear whether there was a foreign mastermind or logistical support. Whatever facts emerge, some reassessment of British policy towards radicals within the Muslim community can be expected.

In the view of U.S. critics, the U.K. should, for example, have acted more quickly in arresting clerics such as Abu Hamza al-Masri and Omar Bakri Mohammed, whom they see as having fomented extremism. Abu Hamza, whose Finsbury Park mosque in north London acted as a magnet for extremists including Richard Reid, the shoebomber who tried to blow up an airliner in December 2001, was arrested in May last year. His trial on charges including incitement to murder Jews and other non-Muslims started this month. Mr. Bakri Mohammed, whose group was criticized for glorifying the September 11 attacks, told a Portuguese magazine last year that British troops in Iraq were “terrorists” and predicted that several groups were planning to target the U.K. He also said the life of an unbeliever, in other words a non-Muslim, had no value.

“There is a certain amount of reluctance on the British to move quickly. What they never seem to realize is that by the time they know they have a problem it is too late,” a former senior U.S. intelligence official said this week.

In France, too, officials have been long-standing critics of British tolerance of Islamist dissidents, particularly from North Africa. They also believe that their policy at home of cracking down on jihadists and supporters -- while not guaranteeing safety -- has been more effective than Britain’s. Surveillance of radicals is much more intense, with every mosque monitored; extremists and purveyors of hate speech are harassed and deportations are much more frequent.

“The British do not have this system of permanent surveillance, with deep penetration of problem communities,” Alain Chouet, former director general of the DGSE, the French foreign intelligence service, told Le Figaro. Referring to Britain’s domestic security service, he added: “On the contrary, they have with MI5 a machine that performs well once the threat has been declared.”

Mr. Chouet said French harassment techniques had limitations “but they upset networks and prevent them from moving into action”.

The charge, then, is that the British approach to extremists is too soft or too reactive. While British surveillance of extremists is acknowledged to have been more intensive than elsewhere in Europe, bar France, the claim is also that the U.K. does not really understand what is going on inside Muslim communities. Though the government has reached out to leaders of the Muslim community, it is not clear how well connected with most Muslims some of these leaders are.

Britain tried a light touch in part because it wanted to avoid action against extremists that would risk alienating what the government takes to be a quiet majority of Muslims. British security officials argue that the more than half-dozen terrorist plots they have uncovered before and after September 11 show they are doing something right. While they acknowledge that there may once have been substance to the French claims that the British were careless about the safe haven offered to Islamist radicals, that has not been the case for more than a decade. “From 1994 onwards, I don’t think the ‘Londonistan’ claims could be levelled with any accuracy,” says one.

There are also differences that mean the U.K. is unable to follow aspects of the French approach. One is legal: France’s system of investigating magistrates is recognized by some in the U.K. as more effective in dealing with terrorism than Britain’s adversarial judicial system. Security officials say one reason they do not detain suspects more quickly is because they need to gather evidence that will stand up in court.

France has also chosen a course that insists on assimilation, as shown by the government’s insistence that headscarves and other religious adornments should not be worn in schools. Britain’s approach has been largely to let Muslim communities alone. There is still some official pride in the traditions of the rule of law, free speech and safe haven to dissidents. One official says the security services do not know whether more people than before were listening to radical clerics. “Attendance at a mosque and listening to a radical cleric or a moderate cleric is not a criminal offense. Free speech is entirely lawful and we don’t monitor the activity of people going to mosques,” he says.

Moreover, the experience of France, burned in the furnace of the Algerian war of independence that ended in 1962, is different from Britain’s. People from the Asian subcontinent make up close to 80 per cent of Britain’s 1.6m Muslims, Pakistanis alone accounting for 45 per cent of them. By contrast, North Africans make up more than half of France’s Muslims, 30 per cent of whom are Algerian.

The perception of British laxness in dealing with the issue is by no means universal. “There are no liberal laws here,” says an official of Amnesty International, the human rights organization. “The U.K. has some of the most draconian emergency legislation in the whole western world.”

Arab political activists warn that blaming last week’s attacks on London’s historic role as a refuge for dissidents is designed to divert attention from the real threat. “There is no evidence that the liberal values here are a reason behind last week’s attacks,” insists Saad Djebbar, a London-based Algerian lawyer. “There are many countries that don’t allow any groups on their territory and have had the same terrorist attacks.”

While it is true that, 10 years ago, individuals who incited violence against targets outside the U.K. were rarely prosecuted, human rights activists say the liberal image is no longer valid. Even before September 11, legislation was tightened and suspects can be indefinitely detained without trial.

Moreover, though nothing has been announced, British policy appears to have shifted in emphasis in the last two years. Abu Hamza’s arrest and the placing of his mosque into the hands of moderate Muslims was seen as a watershed. The British government last year also increased MI5’s budget, mainly to help it deal with counter-terrorism, which occupies two-thirds of its personnel. The extra funds should allow the agency to increase its staff from 2,000 last year to 3,000 in 2008.

Whatever decisions are taken in dealing with Islamic extremism -- and disaffected Muslim youth -- the problem is unlikely to go away. One third of Britain’s 1.6m Muslims are under 16 -- compared to a fifth of the population as a whole. Timothy Savage, a U.S. foreign service officer expressing his own opinion, argued in last summer’s Washington Quarterly that dealing with Islam would do more to shape Europe than any other issue this century. If current trends of immigration, a low birth rate for non-Muslims and a high Muslim birth rate continued, he said, “Muslims could outnumber non-Muslims in France and perhaps in all western Europe by mid-century.” According to the Pew Research Center, the population of the European Union’s current 25 member states will be one-tenth Muslim by 2020.

Detailed but little-noticed research on the attitudes of British Muslims, published by the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission at the end of last year, suggested a critical view of British foreign policies and a fear of being stereotyped as terrorist suspects. [NOTE: See the link to the original article for graphics presenting some of this data. --H.B.] The research, based on interviews with people mostly between 15 and 29, found respondents overwhelmingly critical about British policy towards the Palestinians, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Bosnia, and Iraq. In another finding, 57 per cent of respondents disapproved of the requirement for new citizens to swear allegiance to the crown.

Another area of concern in the IHRC survey was a perception of increased Islamophobia in the aftermath of 9/11. A clear majority thought anti-terrorist laws and the way they were being implemented, coupled with media reporting of police investigations, needed to be more sensitive about the “stereotyping of all Muslims as potentially hostile terrorist suspects.”

Massoud Shadjareh, the IHRC’s main spokesman, says: “There has been a radicalization of the British Muslim community -- but in the sense of a raising of consciousness about issues which Muslims feel strongly about. The biggest expression of this has been the participation of British Muslims in demonstrations against the war in Iraq. But this doesn’t mean that you now have large numbers of British Muslims prepared to blow people up.”

According to Mr. Shadjareh, firebrands such as the Syrian-born Mr. Bakri Mohammed, who moved to the U.K. in 1985 and was the leader of the radical al-Mujahiroun group, have been “politically demonized” but have negligible backing among British Muslims. “He has between 50 and 100 supporters who turn up for his meetings.”

Nevertheless, U.K. officials recognize that clerics such as Abu Hamza play an important role in radicalizing young British Muslims. “There is certainly a link between some of the individuals and the radicalization of young Muslims. When you look at the textbook of radicalization, more often than not a radical cleric is somewhere in the picture,” says one security official.

How many such radicals there are is hard to tell. Sir John Stevens, the former head of London’s Metropolitan Police, has said that there are 10,000-15,000 supporters of al-Qaeda. But security officials say they see this number as a reflection of passive support -- the milieu in which it is possible for terrorists to operate -- rather than the number of potential terrorists.

“Al-Qaeda’s strategy is deception,” says Saad al-Faguih, a Saudi Islamist dissident who denies involvement with terrorism. “Look at the 19 bombers from September 11: they did nothing to show links with Muslim activities.”

Before the bombings, the police and MI5 were working on the basis of intelligence assessments that about 300 British nationals had gone though or been trained in al-Qaeda camps and most were identified and had been under surveillance. Their most worrying admission, however, was an estimate that there could be as many as 30 unidentified people, among them British nationals, about whom they had no intelligence but who could potentially mount attacks.

Officials say British participation in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has motivated some radicals -- but they are cautious about numbers. “A steady trickle of radicals is travelling from the U.K. to Iraq,” says one. But in the past they have gone to Bosnia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. The fact is that there were and are young men who wanted to go and fight jihad. It’s still in its early stages in terms of the numbers in Iraq. So far the numbers going to Iraq are far lower than Bosnia. A few we know have come back.”

Finding out who will turn from radicalism to terrorism is a tough task for the security services. The initial reaction from those who lived near the young suicide bombers suggests they kept their activities and views secret from their neighbours and parents. “Those who engage in terrorism don’t go around shouting about it before doing it,” says Mr. Shadjareh. “There is also some evidence that British Muslims who turn to terrorism are converts or reconverts, and do not have a really deep and sophisticated understanding of the Muslim faith.”

Yesterday in the House of Commons, Shahid Malik, Labour MP for Dewsbury, where one bomber had his home, said the attacks represented “a defining moment” both for the country and for its Muslim community. “Condemnation is not enough. British Muslims must, and I believe are, prepared to confront the voices of evil head-on,” he told parliament.

Yet some resist steps that to bring Muslim leaders closer to the government. Imran Waheed, representative for the ultra-radical Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, says: “The proximity between some individuals and organizations in the Muslim community and the British government has serious implications for the real interests of our community.

“If sincere, these individuals and organizations must now ask themselves why the British government, which pursues a brutal colonialist foreign policy over the entire Muslim world, is so keen to fund them, promote them, and support them.”


In depth/Terror

By Roger Blitz

** London’s reputation as a base for international radicalism can be traced back to the 16th century **

Financial Times (UK)
July 11, 2005

London’s reputation as a base for international radicalism can be traced back to the 16th century when religious radicals sought refuge from the Protestant reformation spreading across continental Europe. But it was the mid-19th century when London became a safe haven for radical political activists. The collapse of European revolutions in 1848 prompted hundreds of radicals from the Continent to find the freedom of expression and association in London that was being curtailed in their homelands. Stephen Inwood, author of A History of London, said British ambivalence to radical exiles was undimmed even by an outbreak of attempted and actual political assassinations, including those of Tsar Alexander II of Russia and James Garfield, the U.S. president, both in 1881.

One reason, said Mr. Inwood, was that foreign anarchists and revolutionaries did not want to antagonize their “protectors” by carrying out violent attacks in England, even though they advocated and instigated direct action elsewhere in Europe.

“As a rule they didn’t commit acts of terrorist violence in London,” said Mr. Inwood. “They were able to mix freely because they weren’t in danger of being arrested. They weren’t a danger to London or England.”

London accepted the Paris Communards after 1871, the German Social Democrats expelled by Bismarck in 1878 and, most significantly, the Russian socialist and anarchists from the 1870s onwards. But among the earliest revolutionary thinkers to arrive was Marx. Expelled from Paris in September 1849, he set sail for England, the only country that would accept him, and lived at first in squalid conditions in central London.

Russian revolutionaries were frequent visitors. London was the scene of the historic split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. In September 1906, Stalin rented a one-room flat in Whitechapel, east London, for a month in order to attend the Bolshevik and Menshevik party conference at the Brotherhood Church in Southgate Road.