When I heard that British prime minister David Cameron, speaking at a security conference in Munich, had pronounced multiculturalism in Britain a failure and called on British Muslims to embrace Western values, I was delighted. But the actual speech was somewhat disappointing. Though Cameron, to his credit, went farther than any of his predecessors in describing the danger that Muslims pose to the United Kingdom, he nevertheless refused to confront the true scope of the problem.
Begin with Cameron’s statement that “the biggest threat that we face comes from terrorist attacks, some of which are carried out by our own citizens.” Terrorism is certainly a major problem, but it doesn’t compare with a host of others. There’s the rapid growth of Muslim enclaves in British cities where women are brutally oppressed in accordance with sharia. There’s the disturbing new pattern of censorship and self-censorship exemplified by novelist Sebastian Faulks, who in 2009, after incurring Muslim wrath for disparaging the Koran—“The consequences of saying things like this could be quite severe,” warned the Islamic Society of Britain darkly—rushed out a pathetic, groveling apology. There’s the spineless defeatism that led the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a 2008 speech, to whitewash sharia and urge “constructive accommodation” of it in the United Kingdom.
And there’s that very accommodation. Police have repeatedly refused to protect abused Muslim wives and children, for example. A couple of weeks ago, a swimming pool in Manchester popular with Muslims turned away a toddler because she wasn’t of the faith. Examples like this become even more troubling in light of a 2007 report from the Dutch intelligence service, which noted that European imams who had previously urged their flocks to become terrorists were now calling for them to shariafy Western society gradually, through a long-term campaign of bullying, intimidating, guilt-tripping, and grievance-mongering.
Even Cameron’s remarks about terrorism went wide of the mark. “It is important to stress that terrorism is not linked to any one religion or ethnic group,” he said. “Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that this threat comes in Europe overwhelmingly from a group of young men who follow a completely perverse, warped interpretation of Islam.” More and more Western politicians, alas, have turned themselves into Islamic theologians, taking it upon themselves to assert that the jihadists have misunderstood their religion. The sobering truth is that jihad—the effort, in whatever form it may take, to bring the “House of War” (that is, the non-Muslim world) under sharia—is consistent with the teachings of the Koran and the example of Mohammed.
True, the great majority of British Muslims aren’t terrorists. But this is far from saying that they are assimilating to Western norms of freedom and democracy. Consider: 40 percent of British Muslims surveyed by the Telegraph in 2006 told pollsters that they’d like to see Britain controlled by sharia; two years later, 36 percent of young British Muslims queried by the same paper supported the execution of apostates. The difference between these Muslims and the terrorists isn’t their ideology; it’s what they’re prepared to do personally in its name. This suggests that Cameron was wrong to draw the contrast that he did: “Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people; Islamist extremism is a political ideology supported by a minority.” The fact, again, is that what Cameron calls “Islamist extremism” is for many Muslims belief put into action.
In the end, Cameron couldn’t avoid putting his finger on the real problem: “segregated communities” in the United Kingdom “that run completely counter to our values.” Cameron might have expanded on this observation: Which values exactly do these communities embrace? But that would have meant directly criticizing Islam. Instead, Cameron chose to blame British society: if young British Muslim men don’t embrace British values, he said, it’s because “we fail to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.”
And then came this: “So when a white person holds objectionable views . . . we rightly condemn them; but when equally unacceptable views or practices come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious, frankly, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them.” Why, suddenly, this business about whites and nonwhites in the middle of a lecture about religion? Because of the chronic British fear of offending Muslims (similarly, the cultural elite habitually says “Asian” instead of “Muslim” when describing, say, criminal suspects). Here, it results in an unjust characterization that smears all people who aren’t white—among them British Hindus, who are models of assimilation.
Alas, we’ve got to take what we can get. The fact is, Cameron’s statement, for all its equivocation, is so far the best we’ve gotten on this topic from 10 Downing Street. “We need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism,” said Cameron. Yes, that’s precisely what Britain needs: a gutsy, unashamed defense of liberal values—and with it, a frank critique of the illiberal values enshrined in sharia and enforced in far too many Muslim communities around the United Kingdom. Cameron has finally dipped his toe in the waters of truth. Please dive in, sir.