The British government’s recent elevation of the terrorist threat level signifies an attack is highly likely. It is responding perhaps to events such as the failed al-Qaeda attempt to down an airliner over Detroit and the report that non-Arab women are being trained as suicide bombers. While their increased vigilance is sensible, the United Kingdom remains an inadvertent exporter of terrorism.
The United Kingdom has been wobbly in quashing radicals who inspire jihadists to take up arms against freedom-loving nations. The government continues to allow extremists a forum in the name of free speech. For example, cleric Yahya Ibrahim, who advocates violence against the West, is being allowed to enter the UK to speak at universities and mosques. Ibrahim is one of several hardliners allowed into the UK despite being banned from the U.S.
Instead, Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders was denied entry because he produced a film criticizing Islam. To allow a man essentially branded a terrorist by the U.S. to speak at a university defies reason. Let’s not forget that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the al-Qaeda operative who attempted to detonate an airliner, was radicalized while attending University College London.
British politicians are chided for using the words “Islam” and “terrorism” in the same sentence, let alone going after those who inspire terrorists; in such an atmosphere it is not surprising that the UK has become the nexus for dangerous ideologies. This is the real reason an increased threat level is necessary. Until the British address the home front, the entire Western world is imperiled.
But there are some encouraging signs. Anjem Choudary, a London-born lawyer and leader of the organization Islam4UK, recently announced his intent to stage a protest against the “occupying and merciless British military” in the town of Wootton Bassett. The town has achieved fame because hundreds of people regularly line the streets to mourn passing caskets of British casualties flown into the nearby airbase.
Prime Minister Brown issued a statement saying he was “personally appalled” and Home Secretary Alan Johnson offered support to any local government effort to ban the protest. Johnson later announced that the group itself had been outlawed under a measure allowing the government to ban promoters of terrorism.
This might seem contrary to the values of an open society. Isn’t Islam4UK analogous to the Nazi group which, aided by the ACLU, won the right to march through Skokie? The crucial difference is that there is no real threat from Nazis, whereas the Western world actually is at war with Islamists.
Choudary claims he is exercising free speech, yet eleven members of organizations under his leadership have been convicted of crimes including “soliciting murder,” “inciting people to commit acts of terrorism overseas,” and terrorist fundraising. Two other men who planned attacks were members of his groups.
Hopefully Wootton Bassett is the start of a full-scale rebuke of extremism. The day before Johnson announced the ban, five men were convicted of inciting violence at a parade of troops returning from Afghanistan. Britain’s government may finally understand that protecting democracy does not mean that we must engage in a suicide pact with our enemies.
Unfortunately, the U.S. is losing that understanding. After his thwarted bombing attempt, Abdulmutallab was read his Miranda rights, as though his actions were merely criminal. And why not treat him as a common criminal, when the administration insists that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be tried in a federal court rather than a military tribunal?
President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair were not always politically on the same page, but they understood the U.S. and UK need to band together to protect the free world. Churchill called this the “special relationship.” While conscious of constitutional rights, they were not afraid to call terrorism by its real name and to act to thwart it.
The current relationship between the two governments is strained. In recent months, the U.S. has irked the British by directly securing an arrangement with Bermuda to import Chinese Uighurs previously detained at Guantanamo. The Brits have upset the U.S. by freeing the convicted Lockerbie bomber and agreeing to talks with Hezbollah.
But in famous words passed down from the American founding, if we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately. The U.S. and UK must cooperate and strike a more sensible balance between liberties and self-protection in order to defeat our common enemy.