Listening to Douglas Murray, one gets a picture of a world turned on its head, one where relativism has trumped common sense, where the state pays its enemies more than its soldiers and where turning in the inciters becomes an act of incitement.
Murray is the 31-year-old director of the Center for Social Cohesion, a London-based think tank that studies radicalization and extremism in the UK, and he is an outspoken critic of the British government’s response to the challenge of radical Islam.
Our meeting takes place shortly after the fifth anniversary of the 7/7 attacks, four suicide bombings committed by British Muslim men that killed 52 people and wounded hundreds of others. Murray believes that while the security services have learned the lesson of that event, government and politicians have so far failed to do so.
Britain’s thinking and its political culture, Murray says, have “gone bad” and it has become afraid to state its own values. Britain has become a society that no longer knows how to draw the line.
He is particularly critical of the government’s “Prevent” strategy, set up after the 7/7 bombings to tackle Muslim radicalization by providing a counternarrative. “Prevent,” says Murray, is an example of the government attempting to “do theology.”
“When the British government comes out after 7/7 and says, ‘Islam is a religion of peace,’ you can understand the reasons it is saying this – it is trying to reach out – but obviously there is something terribly counterproductive about this,” says Murray. “The problem is that the government seems to believe it can do theology. I’m a small government guy and I like government to do as little as possible.
The way I see it is that government can’t do many things very well – it doesn’t even do taxes very well, it doesn’t do policing very well, but the thing it definitely can’t do very well is theology, in particular a theology it knows very little about, or is only starting to learn about.”
For Murray the answer lies not in outreach, but in affirming the values of the state and in laying down the law.
“Instead of getting embroiled in endless wars and debates about a religion which is not our national religion, which after all is a minority religion and has no particular history of any significance in Britain – instead of getting involved in that conflict, which may or not be won by the progressives, you say what you are as a state,” he declares.
“A lot of young Muslims have said to me in recent years, ‘You ask me to integrate, but what are we integrating into? What is Britain, what are British values?’ It’s very hard to tell people to integrate if you don’t tell them what they are integrating into. It’s very hard to tell them to be British if they don’t know and you don’t know what Britishness is. The fact is that we have been very poor in saying what we are and we have also been very poor is saying what we expect people to be. We’ve been very good in stressing what rights people get when they come to Britain and very bad at explaining what responsibilities come with them.”
Britain, says Murray, has made a terrible mistake in the direction it has taken with its Muslim minority since the Salman Rushdie Satanic Verses affair.
“The problem is,” he explains, “that the British government has pushed young Muslims into becoming young Muslims when it should have pushed them into becoming young Brits. In other words, the direction of travel it sent them in has been deeply backward.”
MURRAY DESCRIBES himself as a long-standing critic of multiculturalism.
“Pluralism or multiracial societies seem to me to be good and desirable things,” he says. “Multicultural societies, where you encourage group differences, seem to me to be a very bad thing.”
For Murray, multiculturalism is a moral vacuum, and “into a moral vacuum always bad things creep.”
The Eton and Oxford educated Murray quotes Saul Bellow in his introduction to The Closing of the American Mind
: “When public morality becomes a ghost town, it’s a place into which anyone can ride and declare himself sheriff.”
“Once so-called multicultural societies decided that they didn’t have a locus, that they didn’t have a center of gravity, anyone could ride in and teach the most pernicious things,” Murray expounds. “It didn’t matter. It was just another point of view.
“It’s an extraordinary situation. We allow absolutely anything. This is the reason the British police used not to investigate certain types of killing, like honor killings. This is a community matter, they’d say. Police have admitted that now. This is why tens of thousands of women from certain communities have been genitally mutilated. We have made ourselves entirely relative and it's time to change that.”
Another instance of multiculturalism gone mad that Murray cites is a 2007 case where a Channel 4 documentary, Undercover Mosque
, uncovered in the West Midlands clerics who they recorded preaching murder of minorities. The police were sent the tapes by Channel 4 and infamously decided to try to prosecute Channel 4 for incitement in broadcasting this material.
Murray says that a few months after the case, while lecturing senior police officers, he mentioned it and was told by one officer that he “had to understand we live in a very multicultural area.”
Murray replied to the officer that he was basically stating that to pursue the multicultural dream, he would allow certain minorities to have their lives threatened by other minorities because it would cause too much trouble. “He wouldn’t comment,” says Murray, “but this was clearly the decision they had made.”
Murray charges that because of its multicultural approach, the government has allowed certain groups to be approached through self-appointed leaders such as the Muslim Council of Britain.
“In Islam in Britain we have a bizarre situation where people are spoken of, or spoken to, through clergy,” he explains. “If I’m a young man born to Anglican parents, the idea that I can only be accessed via my local vicar is mad, but you now have this weird situation where, as it were, the more religious you are, the more devoted you are to the mosque and to the political organization of certain mosques in Britain, the more likely you are to have a voice.”
Murray paraphrases Henry Kissinger’s famous comment: “What number do I dial to reach Europe?” by saying that the British government has basically decided what number to dial to reach its Muslim minority, handing over the community’s voice to the clergy.
“It’s a pathetic, ridiculous idea,” he charges. “My belief is that you should encourage people to believe that they are represented in the same way everybody else is represented, by their MP, by their local councilor and so on. An Irish immigrant friend of mine put it to me rather beautifully when he said that the moment when you become most integrated into a society is not when you get special bribes, special rights, special laws etc., but when you have to put up with the same sh*t as the rest of us.”
Murray gives what he calls the tragic example of a “very unpleasant sinister figure” from the Muslim Council of Britain, Inayat Bunglawala.
Bunglawala is quoted in Kenan Malik’s book From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Legacy
as saying that Rushdie affair is what radicalized him, what got him politicized. He says he didn’t really go to the mosque that much, hadn’t really read the Koran, but that he heard about the novel and he thought, “Why are we being singled out? Why are they only attacking us.”
“This is a tragedy,” says Murray, “because this was the moment when somebody in a position of power could have said: ‘You know what? You’re not being singled out; you are being subjected to exactly the same treatment that free societies exact on everyone.’ Nobody said that. It was repeatedly given out that there was a justifiable grievance and that’s what’s still understood today. We should have at that point said at that point in 1989 said that a society where even your deepest feelings can be trodden on is the only society worth living in. We should have said a long time ago and it’s still not too late to say it now.”
Murray calls Britain a “soft touch” on immigration and welfare, citing the case of Anjem Choudary, a co-founder of the now proscribed Al- Muhajiroun movement, whom he describes as “one of the most notorious loud-mouthed idiots in Britain.”
“Choudary has a few children and a wife – he’s a qualified solicitor but as far as we know has never sought employment. He receives £25,000 a year in benefits, untaxed, and among other things he and his welfare jihadi friends go and abuse British soldiers coming home from Afghanistan when there are homecoming parades."
“Now this has caused a lot of bitter and understandable resentment in Britain. The thing that people haven’t quite realized is the most perverse about this is that a soldier in Afghanistan, starting out, fighting for Britain, receives something like £15,000 a year on which he is taxed to fight the Taliban, whom Choudary and his supporters support. So the British state will currently give you £15,000 if you’re willing to fight her majesty’s enemies and £10,000 more if you are willing to support her majesty’s enemies.
It’s probably not the first time in history where one side has paid its enemies and its own men, but it's probably the first war in history where somebody has paid its enemies better
than its own men.”
MURRAY SAYS that the Mike’s Place bombing in April 2003, when two British Muslim suicide bombers attacked a bar in Tel Aviv, killing three people, was a transformative moment for him.
“If you have a problem you export, it does come home,” he says. “When those two young men, one of them from Kings College in London, came out to Tel Aviv, that should have been a moment when not just the British police and the British security services, but the British government and the British people woke up, to what they have made.”
Asked why is it that many of those Muslims who have committed terrorist attacks in the West have been very much a product of the West, affluent and privileged rather than poor, marginalized and alienated, Murray points to Britain’s universities as hotbeds of radicalism.
“The Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a rich Nigerian boy, lived in his father’s flat in the most expensive part of London and got radicalized while at University College London,” says Murray as an example. “I've said a lot in recent years on the university issue; I’ve kept on trying to get the universities to wake up to this. My center published a report called ‘Islam on Campus’ in 2008 which got huge attention because of very worrying findings, like a third of Muslim students saying that killing in the name of their religion could be justified, things like that.
“I have kept trying, the center has kept on trying to explain to the universities that this is their problem. Omar Sheik [a former student at the London School of Economics best known for his role in the kidnapping and execution of Daniel Pearl], Assaf Hani [one of the Mike’s Place bombers] and another LSE graduate, Abdulmutallab. The list is now pretty long."
“The only explanation I have for why it hasn’t been dealt with is that it goes so much against the narrative that privileged white Western liberals have got, that they can’t think their way out of it even when the evidence is to the contrary. If you believe Islamist terrorism is caused by poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of education, Israel, then you need things to fit that. Now you can put up with one thing bucking that trend, but when it happens repeatedly some people just dig themselves in and ignore it even more. In Britain, at any rate, you are more likely to become a terrorist if you go to university.”
Again Murray blames a failure to stand up for liberal values. “You are more likely to become a major terrorist if you’ve gone to university because, among other things, these places have two factors: one you come across the very softest, most apologist form of education you could find; you come across soft liberal Western opinion that cannot decide where to draw lines, cannot decide how to defend itself, cannot explain the superiority of some liberal values and won’t argue its case. Then you come across the thing that has taken advantage of this – Muslim groups who week in, week out bring in radical speakers from the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizbullah.
“Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, is sitting in his penthouse in a country that he doesn’t know very much and he will probably notice the following. He would notice that you aren’t allowed to recruit for the British army at University College London, but he would also notice that pretty well known jihadis can speak on campus. In other words this young man can get in touch with the top jihadis via his Islamic studies society.”
Referring to an earlier he comment on how when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they will always back the strong horse, and how if people see that the state is weak, unbothered even by its assassins, then they will not back the state, they will not back the country they are in and they will not integrate further, Murray says: “You would get a very warped idea about which was strong horse and which was the weak horse if you were Abdulmutallab. After Christmas Day I assumed it would stop, I have to say I’m still waiting for it to happen. I don’t know what it takes, in other words. I thought after Mike’s place they’ll wake up, they must wake up now. I thought that after 9/11, I thought that after 7/7.
After every incident you say, surely they are gong to wake up now. The only good thing is that some people do and everyone that breaks the silence encourages other people to do the same.”
MURRAY DOES feel, though, that with the recent election of a new Conservative-led government the situation has improved somewhat, but on the other hand he says he is “very concerned about the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the coalition, because of their tendency to harbor rabid anti-Semites, people like Jenny Tonge.”
“I’m not a supporter of any of the parties,” says Murray, “but the Conservatives do have some people who do get this. [Secretary of State for Work and Pensions] Ian Duncan Smith has stated his desire to stop the welfare culture. He hasn't said this, but it is the welfare culture which has fueled a lot of this in Britain – the situation where you do jihad on the dole.
“Others have signaled they know the right way to go. The new home secretary [Theresa May] banning [radical Muslim preacher] Zaki Naik was a good example. She said entry to Britain is not a right, it’s a privilege, so he’s not coming in. There are some signs, but to my mind to sort this out now requires a huge degree of political leadership and I don’t think there is any of that or much of that around. You have to break through a set of barriers in order to deal with this.”
While Murray feels the clock is now showing “five minutes to midnight” and the danger exists of a European city falling to Islam – and in Britain the possibility of “no go areas” in Birmingham, the country’s first Muslim majority city – it is not yet too late to turn the situation around, he says.
One of the things Murray calls for is a clampdown on immigration.
“There has to be a clampdown,” he says, “There has to be severe restriction on it. It seems very obvious to me that a society that does not believe it has anything it needs to protect, that it has no identity to keep, will melt down and end. There is a level of immigration above which you cannot integrate people, and I believe that is what we’ve seen in Britain.”
There is, he adds, also a level at which people can be integrated. “It is generally accepted now that the grandparents of young Muslims today are better integrated then their grandchildren are,” he says. “There is something seriously wrong when you are practicing reverse integration like that.”
Dealing with immigration is just the start for Murray. He also calls on the government to take strong line on hate speech and incitement, to expel foreign clerics if necessary and not to allow Britain “to remain a retirement for would-be jihadis who then claim European Convention of Human Rights grounds for not going to other countries.”
He says that Britain must step out of the CHR. “You have to have a British bill of rights,” he says, “which means some of the insanities that now hinder some of Britain’s own fight are not allowed to persist. You have to end the era of funding Muslim groups, you take away the idea that you can get special access to Downing Street or the UK government just for being a so-called, self-appointed Muslim leader.
You say no, like the prime minister of Denmark did during the cartoon crisis when the delegates of Muslims came to him to complain. He said, ‘No, they will have to learn. I am not seeing them; they will have to learn.
We have a free press and the government does not control that; the sooner they learn that, the better.’” Turning the situation around will be the work of at least a generation, probably more, says Murray. But at the end of the day, he adds, what Britain has to do is to return to a period in which it says: “This is what we stand for, this is what we permit and this is what we do not permit. We are not an entirely relative society. We believe some aspects of our society are better than aspects of other societies. We have allies, and we have friends that we stick beside, and that’s nonnegotiable. We don’t put up with blackmail.”
He also believes that one of the things that needs to be tackled to turn the clock back is the UK’s attitude to Israel, which he likens to appeasement. “If it [the British government] continues to feed the lies that have been told, Britain will suffer angst. It is astonishing that the no major politician since [Tony] Blair has understood Israel’s right to defend herself.
“They consistently speak about such a right in theory, but whenever in
practice, whether it's Gaza or the flotilla, they don’t, and they condemn
Israel on it. I hate reverting to 1930s quotes, because I don’t think
history is an endless lesson of repeating the 1930s, but you know
[Winston] Churchill’s famous description of an appeaser as someone who
feeds the crocodile and hopes it will eat him last. Some major leader has
to explain in relation to Israel and Britain that this crocodile would
eat us next, not last. Therefore it would be a very very stupid thing,
for your own security, as well as your own sense of what’s morally
right, to keep sacrificing Israel in this way.”
ARE YOU optimistic that the battle will be won? I ask Murray in
conclusion.His answer is not entirely reassuring; the clock, he says,
will continue to tick down. “The problem is that it’s five to midnight.
The reason it’s so close is that this is seen currently as being
unturnaroundable, and I think it can be turned around because I have
faith in the fact that things will happen that will mean that the
politicians, eventually, at one minute to midnight, will realize how
badly they screwed up and this will have to be rectified.
“I’ll tell you why I’m optimistic, which is this. I honestly believe
that our values are better; the values of democratic pluralistic
societies are better. I honestly think that in a debate between a rigid
totalitarian interpretation of my ideology and liberal democracy,
liberal democracy has everything going for it and Islamism has nothing
going for it. And if we explain ourselves better, we win. If we explain
ourselves as badly as we are at the moment, then we lose.