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After Woolwich: Status Quo, or UK Reconsidering Islamist Threat?

Some commentators have pointed out that Islamist terrorism remains a rarity in the UK; Drummer Rigby’s killing was indeed the first jihadist murder in London since the 7/7 subway and bus bombings in 2005. However, if on other occasions the security services had dropped the ball as they did with the Woolwich killers (both men were known to MI5; one was arrested in Kenya in 2010 on suspicion of attempting to join Islamist fighters in Somalia), we could have been talking about several dozen more Britons killed in attacks in the past few years.

After the 7/7 attacks, the then-Labour government launched a series of initiatives to counter Islamic extremism and the radicalization of young Muslims in mosques, universities, and prisons. But little if any progress has been made. A mishmash of often contradictory programs has failed to distinguish between genuinely moderate Muslim organizations and those that are interested only in grievance-mongering, or are merely fronts for more radical groups.

Meanwhile, every proposal to introduce new anti-terrorism measures is met with resistance from left-wing and libertarian politicians, civil liberties groups, and human rights lawyers. Attempts to deport foreign-born hate preachers such as the notorious Abu Qatada and other terror suspects have been thwarted by judges sitting not in Britain, but in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. (The UK did manage to deport another extremist cleric, Abu Hamza, after a lengthy legal battle, and he’s now America’s problem.)

While attacks such as last week's are the most visible and extreme manifestation of Islamism in Britain, focusing only on terrorism steers the debate away from more widespread and insidious problems with sections of the Muslim community.

Last year I wrote about the horrific case of young girls being raped and abused by gangs of Pakistani Muslim men. Several men have since been jailed over similar “grooming” cases, and more cases are being investigated. Earlier this year I wrote about Muslim gangs patrolling the streets of London to threaten homosexuals, to harass people for drinking alcohol, and to harass women for being “inappropriately” dressed. Several opinion polls have found large numbers of Muslims in favor of sharia law being introduced in Britain, and underground sharia courts are operating in several British cities.

So: we have a tiny minority of jihadists, another tiny minority of honor killers, another of thugs enforcing Islamic diktats on the streets, and so on. When you add all these tiny minorities together, you end up with a rather large minority. For every Islamist who wants to kill people, there are thousands more who display open contempt for British society and its values of equality and tolerance. If these everyday acts of extremism aren’t tackled, Muslims of all persuasions will become increasingly disconnected from the rest of society, allowing the most dangerous forms of radicalism to flourish.

If politicians, moderate Muslims, and other influential figures don’t loudly and repeatedly condemn every kind of extremism, the problems will only get worse. Britain’s Muslim population is approaching three million -- or five percent of the kingdom. On current trends it’s expected to double within 20 years, with Islam expected to overtake Christianity as the UK’s dominant religion within ten. Around one in ten Britons under the age of 25 is Muslim, and extremist views are more prevalent among young Muslims than among Muslims as a whole.

But there’s no sign that things are about to change. For all the stirring words in the past week, you get the impression that as long as Islamist terror attacks remain a rarity, Britain’s political elites and the broader liberal-left establishment are happy to put up with a little extremism in order not to jeopardize the greater multicultural project.

After all, the sons of politicians don’t have to take their lives in their hands traveling on public transport through immigrant ghettos, and the daughters of well-off civil liberties campaigners and human rights lawyers are in no danger of being “groomed” by gangs of Muslim men.

Eventually, the killers will get through again. And, just as they did last week, the British public will lay flowers, and politicians will vow that the extremists will never win -- and then we’ll go back to avoiding the issues. What the politicians don’t seem to understand is that the Islamists’ definition of winning is different than ours -- in the absence of an outright victory over their enemies, they’ll settle for a few more decades of bloodshed and strife. It’s true that they won’t win, but there’s no sign of them losing.