Winchester, England. -- If the terrorist plot involving young Muslim Britons to blow up nine airliners with liquid explosives were not enough to spark some rethinking here in Britain among the Muslim community about their own role and responsibilities, it is hard to see what would be.
Today, a week after the British police and security services arrested 24 persons for plotting one of the most fiendishly clever attacks in the annals of terrorism, an intense debate is taking place about its causes. The silver lining is that the problem of the "enemy within" has started to be taken seriously in the British media, where political correctness and misplaced so-called tolerance has previously ruled out any frank discussion of the Muslim community's role, even after the subway bombing of last summer.
Clearly it is incumbent on Muslims in Britain, indeed in Europe, to denounce the insanity being planned and perpetrated in their name. The reaction to the news of the terrorist plot among Britain's Muslims spans those who fear being blamed or victimized themselves, those who blame the British government's foreign policy and those who point to the influence by radical Muslim preachers, who are taking hold where traditional mosques are failing to reach young people.
Shahid Malouf, a prominent Muslim Labor MP, accused British Muslims of being in denial about terrorism and focused on conspiracy theories. Britain's Muslim community is, he said, "Immersed in the victim narrative." He said the influential Muslim Council of Britain has failed to address the challenge of identifying and isolating the community's extremists.
"We have to create a zero-tolerance attitude to views that are unacceptable in a decent society, to say that the 7/7 bombers are not martyrs going to heaven but sinners going to hell,'"Mr. Malouf said. At the same time, however, four members of parliament, including Mr. Malouf himself, and 38 Muslim groups published a letter in British weekend papers blaming the Blair government's foreign policy for the attacks.
Britain, which appeared to be well ahead of the rest of Europe in the integration of its 1.8 million-strong Muslim population, not only uncovered this wide-ranging and well-coordinated plot, but also has 70 other investigations underway with more than 100 suspects under surveillance, according to media reports.
Like the subway bombers of last July, the young men who have been arrested are not foreigners - at least not technically speaking - but British citizens. They are mostly second-generation immigrants, whose parents came here to seek a better life. But the life they have found has produced in some cases alienation so severe in their children that radical Muslim clerics preaching hatred and destruction of the West have had an open field among the youth.
The demographics would seem to favor the clerics, unfortunately. Thirty percent of Britain's Muslim population is under 15; 92 percent is under 50. About half are of Pakistani origin, and about half of the younger population does not feel allegiance to Britain as their native country. Instead many dream of the coming of the Muslim caliphate, which they expect will transform Europe, and introduce Shariah law.
Particularly Britain's university campuses are fertile recruiting grounds for terrorist cells. Among the 24 detained in the airline plot was a chemistry student at London Metropolitan University. Five of the suspects had been to bomb-making training grounds in Pakistan, where they had watched "martyrdom videos."
The fact that the unravelling of the plot could not have taken place without help from British Muslims and Pakistani authorities is highly encouraging. And according to a recent poll by the Pew Center Global Attitudes poll, support for terrorism is declining among Europe's Muslim populations. In Britain, 70 percent say that suicide bombings are never justified. In Germany, the number is 83 percent, France 64 percent and Spain 60 percent.
A heavy responsibility rests on Muslim leaders in Europe to contribute to eliminating the cancerous growth of terrorist cells in their communities. There could not be more than one interpretation of last week's uncovered plot. The nine planes were full of holiday travelers with families of all sorts of nationalities, ethnicities and faiths, including obviously fellow Muslims. Everybody on board would have been sacrificed to the plotters' demented cause - men, women, children, infants - as were the victims of September 11. The message that needs to be delivered loud and clear is this: Evil simply does not come more clearly defined.
Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the Washington Times