I’ve been surprised at how Britons have reacted to the news that the subway bombers were native British Muslims. Home Secretary Charles Clarke is just one of many who expressed “shock” at this revelation. It’s not clear why anyone should be surprised that British citizens could also be terrorists. Nor do the ritual expressions of amazement by neighbors and relatives that such nice, quiet, non-political young men could turn out to be mass murderers ring particularly true. One of the bombers, for example, went to Pakistan to study at a Madrassah, which one could certainly take as a warning sign.
I suppose it’s human nature, though, not to focus on this kind of danger until it strikes at home. Certainly Americans should have been more concerned about the terrorist threat after the first World Trade Center bombing, the attempted simultaneous airplane explosions in 1995, the embassy bombings in 1998, etc. But only on September 11 did most Americans wake up to the danger. Likewise, I guess, with the British. No matter how obvious the terror threat may have appeared to us for the last four years, it must have looked different to those who had not experienced it first-hand. Which highlights how courageous and far-sighted Tony Blair was to join in America’s anti-terror efforts.
One encouraging sign from England is the reaction of Muslim leaders. The BBC reports:
Tony Blair on Wednesday met a delegation of Muslim MPs to discuss the discovery of the suspected bombers.
The Muslim Council of Britain says it reacted with “anguish, shock and horror” to news that British-born Islamic youths were involved in the attacks.
The council’s secretary-general, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, said: “Nothing in Islam can ever justify the evil actions of the bombers.”
Shahid Malik, whose Dewsbury constituency was the scene of police raids in the bombing investigation, said the Muslim community faced a “massive wake-up call”.
He told BBC News after his meeting with Mr Blair: “The challenge is straightforward – that those voices that we have we tolerated will no longer be tolerated, whether they be on the streets, in the schools, in the youth clubs, in a mosque, in a corner, in a house.
“We need to go beyond condemning – we need to confront.”
I could be wrong, and of course there were exceptions, but I don’t remember the American Muslim community responding with equal forcefulness. Now we’ll see, I guess, what the follow-through is.
UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds writes: “I think your analogy to the US Muslim community is inapposite, as the 9/11 terrorists weren’t Americans.” That’s an excellent point, which I should have acknowledged and addressed in my original post. I wonder, though, whether that’s really what made the difference. Any number of cells and plots have been disrupted here in the U.S., and American citizens have been caught in the act of planning terrorist attacks. Admittedly, that doesn’t inspire the horror that flows from an actual, successful attack. But still…while there are many honorable exceptions, I just don’t see large portions of the American Muslim community seriously addressing the issue. The most prominent Muslim organizations, like CAIR, don’t seem to have anything like the resolute, anti-terror attitude that is being expressed by Muslim groups in England.
I don’t want to make too much of this, since, as I keep saying, there are lots of exceptions, and we don’t know yet whether English Muslims will follow up meaningfully to “go beyond condemning,” and “confront” those who advocate terrorism. But, for what it’s worth, I still think there is a difference here that is not entirely explained by the fact that the London bombers were Englishmen.