Sunday, June 25, 2006

Welcome to Londonistan!

Christopher Caldwell of The Weekly Standard has an intriguing and important article in the NYTimes Magazine this Sunday reporting on how London is managing its Islamist problem. Basically there's a fight between doing good ole' police work like forensic science and surveillance and community policing. I don't know if it's just the way Caldwell presents the dilemma but I don't see how they're mutually exclusive. Caldwell writes:
The London Metropolitan Police have long had an official, national counterterrorist role and were prominent in the fight against the I.R.A. But there is not yet a consensus on what the police role ought to be in the fight against Islamist terrorism. Are they there to take the fight to the malefactors, assuming they can find them, through hard-edged tactics ranging from surveillance to raids? Or are they there to keep the peace and listen, particularly in minority neighborhoods, minimizing the discontent, insecurity and alienation on which terrorism feeds? "Communities defeat terrorism" has become the mantra of the police under Sir Ian Blair (no relation to the prime minister), who has been commissioner since early last year. Blair is undertaking big reforms in the police, even as adversaries inside and outside the force call on Tony Blair to fire him — over the recent Forest Gate raid and the mistaken-identity killing in Stockwell last summer. By the end of this year, he hopes to have set up hundreds of Safer Neighborhoods teams, like the one Luswa and Asania serve on, which mix traditional bobby work with a bit of cultural translation. Commissioner Blair aspires to kill two birds with one stone — enhancing police familiarity with the most intimate corners of dangerous neighborhoods while winning the trust of communities that often feel left out of the main current of British life. But, as in the London of Hogarth and Mayhew, the borderline between cultural variety and dangerous criminality can be a fuzzy one.

The British government has dropped broad hints that it is stepping up surveillance and infiltration. The percentage of intelligence resources devoted to terrorism has more than doubled in the last five years. Mosques are not off limits. "Any cleric with radical ideas proselytizes at his peril," Lord Carlile told me. According to the Home Office, extremists are using mosques less and less — and private homes more and more — to carry out their activities.
I don't see how you can forswear surveillance and raids in a post-911 world where a few Islamist malcontents can do billions worth of damage if they are smart and motivated. The thing is, of course, to keep it within constitutional or liberty preserving bounds. This is an art and not a science which is why civil libertarians are taking umbrage at some of Blair's policies and tactics. This is a good thing and an indicator of healthy oppositional politics -- the sign of a vibrant democracy.

The problem with Brits in general is what Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips describes as the tendency to "not to want to give offense." I'm sorry but being offensive is the hallmark of a liberal democratic society. Nothing is sacred. Not religion, not ideology, not any ism. The British, unfortunately, have laws that provide a double standard if not extended to Muslims.
The government also brought to a final vote a "law against incitement to religious hatred" that it had been discussing for five years. It is here that the intellectual underpinnings of the Blair approach were clearest. The law, which had been sought only by Muslims, was first demanded by the U.K. Action Committee on Islamic Affairs, a group formed to protest Salman Rushdie's portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad in "The Satanic Verses." One argument for the law was that Anglicans, as worshipers in an established church, were already protected from certain insults by blasphemy laws, while Jews and Sikhs were protected from others by antiracism laws. But to the legislation's detractors, these were just post-facto rationalizations, for the law was unprecedented in its sweep. As drafted, it would have made it difficult to criticize anything that advanced itself in the name of religious belief or practice, since the law permitted prosecution of anybody who was "reckless as to whether religious hatred would be stirred up" by things he said or wrote.
This is liberal political correctness gone horribly awry.

After being overseas, I'm convinced the United States is the best example of civic nationalism. We don't ask anyone living in this, or coming to this, country to worship any God or respect any opinion, we merely ask you to pledge your loyalty to institutions that defend each person's right to think what they want and express themselves however they see fit basically. This way loyalty is more anchored in a process rather than a firm ethos or ideology. And yes I acknowledge that if the religious right gets any more power then the process itself may be in jeopardy, but this only goes to strengthen the argument that fanatical evangelicals are similar to Islamists in that their religion is as political as it is spiritual.

The gist of all this is that Western countries must preserve the secular, democratic institutions that guarantee each individual's liberty from the authoritarians and fanatics that seek to limit it due to present security concerns or their delusion of what God really wants. Once we start limiting free expression in the name of not offending someone, we've compromised the West's greatest achievement: that each person is entitled to their opinion, no matter how wrong or vulgar it maybe.