TOPICS: UK needs to tolerate radicalism

Britain’s culture of tolerating radicalism is in the national interest and should not be swept away by the urge to get tough. The limits of traditional British tolerance are being tested, not only by jihadi clerics who preach religious fascism and racial hatred, but also by a government that preaches “common sense’’ and “enough is enough’’.

More bomb plots, successful or not; more accusations and rebuttals; all threaten to make the next phase in the jihadi campaign more divisive than during the past two months. The more we learn about the two bomb plots in London, the less they fit any of our previous understandings of terrorism. These two jihadi terrorist cells emerge as typically British: full of anomalies, eccentric in their behaviour, gentlemen-amateurs alternating between ruthless homicide and comical incompetence.

French security forces warned that allowing a “Londonistan’’ to develop was only appeasing international terrorists until it suited them to bomb their safe haven. Many in the US have been openly bemused by the levels of tolerance shown to such controversial figures as Abu Hamza, Omar Bakri Mohammed or Abu Qatada. The “covenant of security’’ between the British authorities and leaders of Muslim communities was a well-understood compromise. Critics argue that this was always a naive arrangement - not only did it fail to prevent bomb attacks, but it may have created a climate that stimulated them. In many eyes, mainstream organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain no longer appear so “mainstream’’.

In response, the government wants to look as tough as possible. Legislation will be presented to parliament in the autumn that creates new offences. Terrorist suspects may be detained for up to 90 days; and the government is attracted to making electronic intercept evidence admissible in court. But the “covenant of security’’ and the British approach to tolerating radicalism is not just an expression of political correctness. It serves some hardheaded national purposes. It recognises that there is not one but several Muslim communities am-ong the 1.5 million Muslims in Bri-tain, all with their own national no-rms and attitudes to culture and assimilation. Self-policing and a better relationship with the police, wo-rking with the grain of different national and religious minorities are fundamental to preventing our gentleman-amateur suicide bombers from becoming figureheads for a revolt among Muslim youth.

The covenant approach is showing its imperfections, but it needs to be reworked. Local Muslim leaders have to re-engage with some of the disaffected youth in their communities and shake themselves out of denial. US and British foreign policy is not part of a global Zionist conspiracy; nor is opposition to it tantamount to jiha dism. Lots of people oppose such policies in effective and democratic ways. But the communities have got to face these questions squarely, instead of using them to construct an identity based on fear and self-pity. — The Guardian