Several readers wrote to ask why we didn't mark the tenth anniversary of the London Tube bombings yesterday. To be honest, I find the formal observances of such events too dispiriting: Their passivity is too obvious an evasion, as if a vague sadness and a shallow solidarity are enough to gain victory. So yesterday;'s ceremonies and services were solemn and dignified and tasteful, but also curiously empty, as if so many things were left unsaid that no amount of music and dignitaries could fill up the space.
In July 2005, in The Irish Times a couple of days after the slaughter, I suggested that, for all the horror and a higher corpse count than the IRA ever managed, blowing up Tube cars and buses "lacked the searing iconic precision of using aircraft to demolish the Manhattan skyline" and therefore 7/7 was unlikely to be a "day the world changed", as we used to say, for a while, about 9/11. London lapsed into Blitz mode - "Britain can take it." But, as I wrote in the Telegraph:
That's never been in doubt. The question is whether Britain can still dish it out.
But who would you dish it out to? That was another difference between 9/11 and 7/7. America was attacked by 19 foreign nationals - from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab countries. Who attacked Britain on July 7th 2005? In one of those instant-reaction pieces for the following morning's Telegraph, I speculated on the perpetrators:
Did we learn enough, for example, from the case of Omar Sheikh? He's the fellow convicted of the kidnapping and beheading in Karachi of the American journalist Daniel Pearl. He's usually described as "Pakistani" but he is, in fact, a citizen of the United Kingdom - born in Whipps Cross Hospital, educated at Nightingale Primary School in Wanstead, the Forest School in Snaresbrook and the London School of Economics. He travels on a British passport. Unlike yours truly, a humble Canadian subject of the Crown, Mr Sheikh gets to go through the express lane at Heathrow.
And so it proved. The killers turned out to be "Yorkshiremen" - British subjects born and bred and into fish'n'chips, cricket, lousy English pop music ...and jihad. All were lifelong Muslims, except for one "revert": Germaine Lindsay. We're used to it now, from Jihadi John and all the other "Britons" head-chopping their way across the Islamic State to the two reverts who decapitated Drummer Rigby on a London street in broad daylight. But a decade ago it was new, and thus slightly shocking. You didn't have to be some halfwit goatherd in a cave in the Hindu Kush to be hot for the caliphate. You could be a materially prosperous young man in Northern England, and the only difference between you and the goatherd is that you prepared for your suicide mission by taking a whitewater-rafting weekend in Wales.
I argued in that morning-after piece that, whereas for Neville Chamberlain Czechoslovakia was "a faraway country of which we know little", for Tony Blair the faraway country of which he knew little was Britain. We were to get eerie glimpses of that foreign land in the wake of July 7th: The Times commissioned a poll of British Muslims. Among the findings:
~ 16 per cent say that while the attacks may have been wrong, the cause was right;
~ 13 per cent think that the four men who carried out the bombings should be regarded as "martyrs";
~ seven per cent agree that suicide attacks on civilians in the United Kingdom can be justified in some circumstances, rising to 16 per cent for a military target;
~ two per cent would be proud if a family member decided to join al-Qaeda. Sixteen per cent would be "indifferent".
That's a substantial fifth column - if you can so describe a minority that makes no secret of its wish to overthrow the existing order and is happy to chit-chat about it on the BBC. There are, officially, one million Muslims in London, half of them under 25. If seven per cent think suicide attacks on civilians are justified, that's 70,000 potential supporters in Britain's capital city, which is quite a talent pool. According to another post-7/7 poll, over 60 per cent of British Muslims want to live under sharia - in the United Kingdom. If you find that alarming, relax: another poll placed the percentage favoring "hardline" sharia at a mere 40 per cent. Yet another found that 20 per cent of British Muslims sympathized with the "feelings and motives" of the July 7th London Tube bombers. Or, more accurately, 20 per cent were prepared to admit to a pollster they felt sympathy, which suggests the real figure might be somewhat higher.
A decade ago I was working on what would become my bestselling book America Alone, and as I wrote therein:
Huge numbers of Muslims see their fellow Britons blown apart on trains and buses and are willing to rationalize the actions of the mass murderers.
As always with Islamic terrorism, then as now, there's a stampede to assure us that there's no Islam to see here. The Bishop of Lichfield, at Evensong on the night of July 7th, was at pains to assure his congregants that "just as the IRA has nothing to do with Christianity, so this kind of terror has nothing to do with any of the world faiths." Father Paul Hawkins of St Pancras parish church, a few hundred yards from the scene of the atrocities, told his own congregation that Sunday, "There are no Muslim terrorists. There are terrorists. The people who carried out these attacks are victims of a false religion, be it false Christianity or false Islam."
These days similar effusions from Cameron or Obama barely get a rise out of me, but back then it was a sufficiently novel provocation to prompt me to despair:
It's not so much the explicit fatuousness of the assertion so much as the meta-message it conveys: we're the defeatist wimps; bomb us and we'll apologize to you.
Meanwhile, Tony Blair and London's deputy chief constable assured us that "of course" we all know that "the vast majority of Muslims" are not terrorists but law-abiding peace-loving people who share our revulsion at these appalling events, etc. My reaction whenever any official states a fact and gives it the imprimatur of government is to ask for the raw data:
If "of course" Mr Blair and Mr Paddick and the rest do indeed know that "the vast majority of Muslims" do not favour terrorism, is that because they've run the numbers and have a ballpark figure on the very very very slim minority of Muslims who do? And, if so, what is it? 0.02 per cent? Or two per cent? Or 20 per cent?
And, if they haven't run the numbers, why do they claim to speak with authority on this matter?
I think somewhere deep off the books in an eyes-only manila file someone somewhere in Her Majesty's Government does have the data. And I think the data would lead you to conclude that, if you were as committed to those amorphous "British values" as Mr Blair claimed to be that day, you would use every means possible in a free society to restrict Muslim immigration, charge and convict those who support the Queen's enemies, and ensure that disaffected young men like Germaine Lindsay do not have a big hole where their sense of national identity is, a hole that Islamic imperialism is only too happy to fill.
Instead, in the decade since July 7th 2005, Muslim immigration has accelerated. No one is surprised to be told there are now more Muslim Britons serving with ISIS than with the British armed forces. On the anniversary of the bombings The Daily Mirror offered this story:
Muslim leaders have responded to the Mirror's disturbing poll showing that 1.5 million Brits identified as supporters of the brutal so-called Islamic State... Staggeringly, the poll of 2,016 British adults taken over the weekend also found that support for the terror group was up by 2%, to 9%.
It found that 3% have a "very favourable view", up 1% from a year ago – suggesting that around half of Britain's three million Muslims could be ISIS sympathisers. Another 6% admitted having a "somewhat favourable" view, up from five per cent last year.
Omer El-Hamdoon, president of the Muslim Association of Britain, said: "Any numbers which favour ISIS are worrying.
"The reasons will no doubt be varied. One reason may be due to the perception that ISIS represents an opponent to the West and those who are dissatisfied or disenfranchised with the new Tory policies – of further cuts and civil rights strangulation - are using this anonymous platform to express their frustration."
But if it were the (entirely mythical) Tory "cuts" that were driving support for the Islamic State, why wouldn't 100 per cent of Guardian readers be waving ISIS flags?
As I've wondered many times, where's the happy ending on this trajectory? Are David Cameron and Anjem Choudhary just quibbling over precisely how Islamized Britain gets? Whether it's a full-blown Islamic republic or merely a pluralistic UK with all the social harmony of, say, Nigeria?
The murder of ten years ago was horrific. The suicide of a great nation is tragic.