It is fast becoming literary folklore that, on turning down Melanie Phillips’s request for publication of her new book, Londonistan, one publisher observed: “I’d rather take ricin than publish this”. Why bother when you’re poisonous enough already? But at least, in his studied cowardice, the now-toxic publisher serves the useful function of exemplifying the problem that Londonistan seeks to expose – the scandalous denial by the British establishment to admit or address the dangers of radical Islamism within their own borders – and, thus, in rejecting the book’s possibility, the publisher simultaneously confirms its veracity.
Remember Rushdie? Melanie Phillips pinpoints the fatwa on British citizen Salman Rushdie after his publication of The Satanic Verses as a critical moment in recent history. It is, in microcosmic form, the first modern example of how, when the values of radical Islamists clashed with the values of the rule of law and freedom of speech, the former values would be championed by the chattering classes in the face of a highly violent protest. “Community leaders” queued up to incite Salman Rushdie’s killing, confident that the authorities would never prosecute; astonishingly, Keith Vaz MP is alleged to have led a three-thousand strong demonstration intent on burning an effigy of Rushdie. The right to offend was about to go up in smoke; and when several thousand Danish flags went the same way a decade later in a synchronized campaign, we saw the logical development of a highly organised and politicised mass-movement.
Taking great pains at all times to insulate peaceful, law-abiding Muslims in the U.K from her attacks on radical Islamists (this is no tabloid rant, as the slightly unappetising title suggests, but a deeply thorough, sensitive and serious book), Phillips traces how the British Muslim establishment was “hi-jacked by the extremist elements”. On page after painful page, Melanie Phillips painstakingly lists the Islamist exiles who “started turning up in London in large numbers” during the 1990s. There was Abu Qatada (“the spiritual head of the mujahideen in Britain”), Rashid Ghannouchi (“lived in Britain for about fifteen years after being convicted in Tunisia of bombing an airport”), Yasser al-Siri (“convicted in Egypt for terrorism”) and the ever-charming Omar Bakri. Reda Hussaine, an Algerian provider of intelligence to the British and French, says they came to Britain because it was “the only country that gave asylum and didn’t ask a lot of questions… thousands and thousands came, wave upon wave…”.
How did this collapse of the steely British resolve to protect its values come about? With the culture of human rights championed in the late 1990s, the values of what Phillips calls the “dominant culture” was permanently replaced by the perspectives of “self-designated victim groups”. Democracy became transformed from majority rule among equal citizens to power-sharing among interest groups. The apotheosis of this was reached when the House of Lords used the Human Rights Act to rule that laws which enabled foreign terror suspects to be detained without trial was “discriminatory” (even though foreign nationals clearly have different rights to British citizens, most obviously, that they were only being held pending deportation). Lord Hoffman ruled that “the real threat to the life of the nation ... comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these”. In a passage which, typically of the author’s style, translates soft cant into biting reality, Phillips writes: “So the real danger was not a terrorist movement whose aim was to defeat Western democracy and reinstitute a seventh-century Islamic empire that stretched halfway across the globe, but the measures that a free society had devised to protect itself from such a threat.”
The 7/7 bombings did not explode the complacency of the liberal elites towards Islamic terrorism in Britain; they rather inflamed the desire of much of the establishment to blame anyone else in the wake of a “politically correct response” to the bombings from much of the media. Was it our fault? Was it America’s? Was it Blair’s? Perhaps it is easier for people to find a populist scapegoat rather than confronting what is truly evil in men’s minds and in their own midst? But in perhaps the most terrifying section of the book, Melanie Phillips lucidly explains how anti-Semitism (or in a tidier mutated form, extreme anti-Zionism) is often a default response in tackling these questions, especially from the far Left and the extremist Islamists themselves. Even the Government (led by a man who showed signs of understanding the true dangers we face) allowed onto its post-bombings taskforce some of the leading names in promoting Zionist-Conspiracy-Theory propaganda (self-styled “moderate” and moderately-styled “extremist” Inayat Bunglawala excels in this regard).
In claiming that British attitudes to the dangers it faces have imperilled the “Special Relationship”, Melanie Phillips hints that she has little faith in the Conservatives, charging us with adopting the “shrill prejudices of the left”. I hope (and know) that this is her only mistake. In seeking to build a safer and more decent society for law-abiding citizens of all races and religions, the Conservative Party must (and will) proudly lead the challenge against those who attack our long-cherished way of life and freedoms. In doing so, we would all be well-advised to study this sensitive, stylish and vital new book.