Adrian Hamilton: The Government can't play it both ways on terror

Must we rethink multiculturalism now the terrorists have proved to be Britons?
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The Independent Online

Whatever you may think of Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, he has one thing going for him. At least he's not David Blunkett. Compared to his predecessor, his measured terms and tone of reasonableness are refreshing expressions of calm in the storm now gathering round him.

Even so, much of what he said yesterday in Brussels was pretty weak. 0n the one hand, he slid and slithered to avoid admitting that Iraq had anything to do with the bombing. On the other hand, he quickly eased into the rhetoric of war and global conflict.

You can't have it both ways. Either we are fighting a war against international Islamic extremism, in which case you have to be stupid not to see that the invasion of Iraq and the consequent turmoil has served to radicalise the youth and give cause to anti-Western hatred. Or you believe that the London bombings are home grown, and home inspired, in which case you would be pretty stupid to build it up into a global fight, with all that this implies.

But Iraq isn't the real problem. The real issue is how far we are going to have radically to rethink our whole approach to security and to multiculturalism now that the terrorists have proved to be not just suicide bombers but second generation, educated Britons. So long as the bombers might have been foreigners, so long as their techniques conformed to the long line of terror from anarchism through the IRA, they could be treated as exceptional. Once they proved to be of British nationality, and relatively well integrated, the question becomes much harder.

To an increasing number of experts, and politicians in Europe as well as America, the answer is plain and brutal. Take in the Madrid bombings, the assassination of Van Gogh in the Netherlands, the metro explosions in Paris and now the attack on London, and you have in their eyes a clear pattern in which the culprits are European-born, educated beneficiaries of Europe's post-war policy of liberal inclusiveness.

Faced with this kind of threat, goes the argument, Europe is going to have to forget its past accommodation, tear up many treasured human rights rules and fight this war as the Americans - closing borders, arresting suspects without trial, and expelling any radical Islamic elements. The alternative is not so easy and may not be acceptable to a frightened public for much longer. It is to say that, far from being over-indulgent, multiculturalism hasn't gone far enough, that the roots of second generation dissatisfaction lie partly in deprivation but also isolation and a sense of discrimination, fed by, but not exclusively caused by, international events.

The simple fact is that Europe now has up to 20 million Muslims, 1.6 million in Britain. You can't do an Israel and set up barriers between populations and you can't turn the clock back to where the US now stands, with a smaller, more widely dispersed Islamic minority, most of them first-generation immigrants. The problem for Europe is that not only do many of its Muslims come from radicalised (if not traumatised) countries in North Africa, the sub-Continent and the Middle East, but few have been fully integrated into Western societies. Unemployment rates, especially among the young, are higher than other sections of the population, the sense of apartness is greater.

Poor economic circumstances don't necessarily cause violence (although they can). But a sense of apartness doesn't help. Nor, in an age of globalisation, does a feeling of Muslim impotency in the face of superior Western arms and corrupt local leadership.

The aim of policy in these circumstances has to be - just as it was in Northern Ireland - to separate the men of violence from the support of the general population and, in the Muslim case, to try and deflate the radicalism of middle-class recruits. The alternative of dispensing with freedoms and oppressing Muslim minorities will only produce increased radicalism and drive extremism underground.

The trouble with present government policy is that it is drifting precariously between the two opposites. Blair, in announcing measures yesterday, talked multiculturalism on the one hand but singled out the Islamic religion (or rather the perversion of it) as the root cause on the other. He declared tough action to deport fire-eating mullahs, but waffled on about what new security measures might be needed.

For the moment, the public seems fairly evenly balanced as to which way it wants the Government to turn. But that may not last as it reacts to the fear of suicide bombers and the knowledge that they come from settled Muslim communities here. There are times when politicians can have it both ways, but this does not look like one of them.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

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