Date: 31 Jul 2008
Middle East Forum
July 31, 2008
Middle East Quarterly
Summer 2008, pp. 63-66
Preface by Melanie Phillips
In February 2008, Gwyn Prins, a professor at the London School of Economics, and Robert Salisbury, the marquess of Salisbury and a privy counselor, published a breakthrough essay in the RUSI Journal on the incongruity between current British defense discourse and the threat posed by radical Islam. The essay, a portion of which is excerpted below, represents the consensus view not only of the authors but also of ten former military chiefs, diplomats, analysts and academics. As important as are the authors is the place of publication: The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) sits at the heart of Britain's defense establishment and is recognized internationally as an authority on defense and security issues. Their paper highlights the profound conceptual flaws at the heart of Britain's strategy for combating the threats facing the country, criticism made more devastating by the combined weight and authority of its authors.
The RUSI paper is a direct challenge to current British government policy that pursues a strategy of cultural appeasement in order to buy off—as it believes—the worse prospect of terrorism and urban violence. But the British government's misguided approach merely enables radical Islamism to achieve its goals. By chance, the paper was published during the uproar generated by the archbishop of Canterbury who, on February 7, 2008, suggested that the British state should accommodate Islamic law, so that British Muslims could choose whether to be regulated by English law or Shari‘a in certain civil matters.
The public was appalled at the archbishop's prescription for the Balkanization of Britain. But in fact, the British government is already affording Islam a special status provided to no other religion or culture, thus bringing about the development of parallel jurisdictions and the growth of an Islamic state within a state.
Multiple wives of Muslim men can now receive welfare benefits, effectively sanctioning polygamy. Banks now offer "Shari‘a-compliant" mortgages, and the Treasury is currently considering the introduction of Shari‘a bonds—regardless of the links with terrorism. A number of people serving on the Shari‘a advisory boards for British and Western banks have connections with Islamist extremism. In addition, a number of experts have said that Shari‘a finance offers an obvious camouflage for terrorist financing.
While the British security service says it is monitoring thousands of British Islamist terrorists and hundreds of terror groupings,  the government and many within the security establishment refuse to acknowledge that religious war is the motivation for these Islamists; too often, they describe such terrorism instead in Orwellian terms as "anti-Islamic."
Meanwhile, Ibrahim Moussawi, the head of Al-Manar, Hezbollah's anti-Semitic television station, is welcomed into Britain on a speaking tour, and Hizb ut-Tahrir—banned around the world—continues freely to recruit countless thousands of impressionable young British Muslims to the cause of the Islamic takeover of Britain and the West.
It is against this backdrop that the true importance of the RUSI paper becomes clear. It asserts for the first time that the core problem is Britain's profound loss of confidence in itself. British society is fragmenting under the pressures of multiculturalism, which have paralyzed any attempt to draw a line in the sand against Islamist demands. Both at home and abroad, Britain has lost any shared understanding of the threats that must be faced and how to do so. Indeed, with its steady loss of the power of self-governance to the European Union, there is no longer any clear idea of where political responsibility lies.
In short, the RUSI paper asserts that Britain's security is being put at greater risk from without because British democracy itself is at risk from within. In allowing the progressive fragmentation of British society and the weakening of its military and defense infrastructure, the government has left Britain open to the pincer movement of cultural colonization and terrorist attack. The only solution is for Britain to rediscover its historic identity, restore its power to rule itself, and reassert the mutual obligations between government and people. As such, the Prins and Salisbury paper should resonate not only within Britain but also within other Western countries struggling to balance immigration, assimilation, and identity.
… The security of the United Kingdom is at risk and under threat. The mismatch between the country's military commitments and the funding of its defense moved Lords Bramall, Boyce, Craig, Guthrie, and Inge—five former Chiefs of the Defense Staff—to take the unusual step of raising their concerns publicly in a House of Lords Defense debate on 22 November 2007 … Security is not only a question for Chiefs of the Defense Staff. It matters to every citizen of the United Kingdom. Security is the primary function of the state, for without it there can be no state, and no rule of law. The former Chiefs of the Defense Staff have stepped outside their traditional reticence to speak on behalf of all. Anxiety about defense and security runs far and wide. This essay addresses the bases of that anxiety: the sources of risk and threat, both overseas and at home. It argues that weaknesses at home, particularly divisions in our attitudes to our defense, contribute to turning risks into threats. It proposes that positive steps to strengthen and update our defense and security efforts involve returning to long established constitutional arrangements of the Queen in Parliament. Thus we may meet the needs of today and tomorrow. ... Repeated assertions by ministers that all is well, that the matter is well in hand and can be safely left to them to manage in-house, no longer carry conviction.
The electorate is uncertain and anxious ... The "war on terror" is with us now in all its ugliness. Both current military operations and the war on terror together raise a deeper point. Is there any longer a clear distinction between being at war and not being at war? A declaration of war is almost inconceivable today, and yet both our defense and security services are in action against active forces, abroad and at home, at this moment.
The electorate sees this paradox. It also worries about the way we were committed to war, especially in Iraq, and about Washington's sway and leadership. But equally, the electorate is disturbed by an undertow of doubt about the wider muddling of political responsibilities between Westminster and Brussels. Who actually holds, or will take, responsibility for our foreign relations, for our defense, and for our security? Who—for instance—should guarantee our borders?
Such uncertainty should be of primary concern because it weakens the bond between government and the governed, which is precisely what terrorists seek to achieve and what other enemies of the United Kingdom will exploit. For this reason, it is not enough for anyone (even Her Majesty's Government) to say, "Don't worry, we have it in hand." The uncertainty has to be addressed. The confidence and loyalty of the people are the wellspring from which flows the power with which all threats to defense and security are ultimately met. Our constitutional arrangements and institutional dispositions must both deserve and grow out of that loyalty and confidence. The present uncertainty suggests our arrangements need review and renewal.
Risk and Threat
Latent risks can become patent threats. What marks the change of a risk into a threat is usually the emergence of a factor which has been misjudged. It has been the reduction of traditional threats (aggression from nation states) combined with the increase of possible risk factors (most notably, Islamist terrorism, but there are many others) which has so destabilized world affairs and increased uncertainty. But linked to these changes is a loss in the United Kingdom of confidence in our own identity, values, constitution, and institutions. "This England that was wont to conquer others," wrote Shakespeare, "hath made a shameful conquest of itself." This is one of the main factors which have precipitated risks into threats. As long as it persists, it will have the power to do so again. Islamist terrorism is where people tend to begin. The United Kingdom presents itself as a target, as a fragmenting, post-Christian society, increasingly divided about interpretations of its history, about its national aims, its values and in its political identity. That fragmentation is worsened by the firm self-image of those elements within it who refuse to integrate. This is a problem worsened by the lack of leadership from the majority which in misplaced deference to "multiculturalism" failed to lay down the line to immigrant communities, thus undercutting those within them trying to fight extremism. The country's lack of self-confidence is in stark contrast to the implacability of its Islamist terrorist enemy, within and without. We live under threat. We sense that now is a time of remission, between the frontal attack of 9/11, and its eventual successor, which may deliver an even greater psychological blow. Significant though they were in their different ways, neither the 2004 Madrid train bombings (which affected a national election), nor the London Underground and bus bombings of July 2005 (which exposed the weakness of the "multi-cultural" approach towards Islamists) were that successor. Thus, we are in a confused and vulnerable condition. Some believe that we are already at war; but all may agree that generally a peace-time mentality prevails. In all three ways—our social fragmentation, the sense of premonition, and the divisions about what our stance should be—there are uneasy similarities with the years just before the First World War.
We are fortunate in not having the specific external state enemies who once posed threats to the British state and against whom we could therefore define ourselves. There has been no straight substitution of the Cold War threat with another threat of different source but similar type. But the range and nature of the threats to the security of British citizens in 2008 are not confined solely to what the Islamists call their "jihad" against the West.
A shifting complex of risks faces us. An adequate approach to Britain's security in the next few years must address questions that are intricate, delicate, and strange to our conventional way of thinking. The familiar categories of "home" and "abroad," which have long reassured the British in a deep part of their national identity, are breaking down. We know much less about what threatens us and how it does so than our official policies assert.
Melanie Phillips is the author of Londonistan (New York: Encounter Books, 2006).
 Gwyn Prins and Robert Salisbury, "Risk, Threat and Security," RUSI Journal, Feb. 2008.
 "Archbishop's Lecture—Civil and Religious Law in England: A Religious Perspective," Feb. 7, 2008.
 Jonathan Evans, address to the Society of Editors, Radisson Edwardian Hotel, Manchester, Eng., Nov. 5, 2007; The Times (London), Nov. 6, 2007.
Related Topics: Muslims in the United Kingdom, Radical Islam
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