Sowing the seeds of disunity

When you burst into a house, shoot one of the occupants, and brief the press that you’re looking for a chemical bomb, you’re going to end up with more than egg on your face if you’ve got it all horribly wrong. The British Security Services, and especially Police Commissioner Ian Blair, are currently looking for ...

608321_IanBlair5.jpg
608321_IanBlair5.jpg

When you burst into a house, shoot one of the occupants, and brief the press that you're looking for a chemical bomb, you're going to end up with more than egg on your face if you've got it all horribly wrong. The British Security Services, and especially Police Commissioner Ian Blair, are currently looking for some towels.

The populist explanation for the raid is that the authorities saw a pair of bearded Muslims and instantly believed the worst. I find that hard to swallow. The police have bent over backwards not to alienate Muslims in recent years. I remember one of London's most senior police officers rebuking an interviewer for using the phrase "Islamic terrorists" straight after 7/7. A much more likely, and in many ways more worrisome, explanation is proposed by the former leader of the Conservative party, Iain Duncan Smith. He argued in an op-ed over the weekend that Muslim extremists are deliberately spreading misinformation—e.g. giving off the kind of tips that led to the Forest Gate raid—so that the police end up raiding the home of innocent Muslims with full force. The aim is to drive a wedge between British Muslims and the authorities.

When you burst into a house, shoot one of the occupants, and brief the press that you’re looking for a chemical bomb, you’re going to end up with more than egg on your face if you’ve got it all horribly wrong. The British Security Services, and especially Police Commissioner Ian Blair, are currently looking for some towels.

The populist explanation for the raid is that the authorities saw a pair of bearded Muslims and instantly believed the worst. I find that hard to swallow. The police have bent over backwards not to alienate Muslims in recent years. I remember one of London’s most senior police officers rebuking an interviewer for using the phrase “Islamic terrorists” straight after 7/7. A much more likely, and in many ways more worrisome, explanation is proposed by the former leader of the Conservative party, Iain Duncan Smith. He argued in an op-ed over the weekend that Muslim extremists are deliberately spreading misinformation—e.g. giving off the kind of tips that led to the Forest Gate raid—so that the police end up raiding the home of innocent Muslims with full force. The aim is to drive a wedge between British Muslims and the authorities.

Now, this kind of campaign is very difficult to deal with. The Security Service’s first duty is to protect the public and so they have to follow up all leads. And it is not like Dixon of Dock Green can go knock on the door and ask if there is a bomb inside. The only way this campaign can be defeated is if the authorities are getting such good information from the Muslim community that they can verify the tips that they receive.

Sadly, the Muslim community is still searching for effective leadership. The previous head of the largest Muslim group in Britain used to boycott Holocaust Memorial Day. The new one has started his tenure by suggesting that the British should adopt arranged marriages.

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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