November 9, 2007 | Commentary on Europe
The news from London this week has been pretty grim. Jonathan Evans, the new Director-General of Britain's domestic intelligence service has unveiled some spectacularly unnerving statistics. In a major speech in Manchester on November 5, he revealed that MI-5 had identified over 2,000 al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist suspects on UK soil, 400 more than previous estimates. In addition, he estimated there were probably another 2,000 unidentified individuals who also posed a terror threat, making a total of 4,000 al-Qaeda linked operatives based in the United Kingdom. Some of these terrorists are children as young as 15 or 16, methodically targeted, radicalized and trained by Islamic militants as part of a long-term war against the West. As Britain's anti-terror "Czar" noted in his speech:
It is important that we recognize an uncomfortable truth: terrorist attacks we have seen against the UK are not simply random plots by disparate and fragmented groups. The majority of these attacks, successful or otherwise, have taken place because al-Qaida has a clear determination to mount terrorist attacks against the United Kingdom. This remains the case today, and there is no sign of it reducing... Al-Qaida is conducting a deliberate campaign against us. It is the expression of a hostility towards the UK which existed long before September 11, 2001.
The scale of the terrorist threat is simply breathtaking. Former
MI-5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller noted last November that British
intelligence is investigating no less than 30 active terror plots
in the UK, with 200 terror networks in operation. In the five year
period leading up to her announcement, British police had already
made 1,166 terrorism-related arrests, with more than 400 people
Since 2001 there have been 15 major attempted terrorist plots on British soil broken by the authorities. In June this year for example, British police foiled a car bomb attack in central London that would have killed or maimed hundreds of people, just days before the 2nd anniversary of the July 7, 2005 bombings that claimed 52 lives. In April, British courts convicted an Islamic terror cell of attempting to kill large numbers of shoppers at Bluewater, Kent, Europe's largest shopping mall. In August 2006, a joint U.S.-UK counter-terrorist operation narrowly thwarted an al-Qaeda plot to blow up 10 American airliners flying from Heathrow to the United States, which would have killed thousands in an atrocity to rival the 9/11 attacks.
Some victories are certainly being won by British authorities in the fight against al-Qaeda. They are though first steps in a long war that must be waged for at least a generation, if not longer. If Britain is to succeed in ultimately defeating the threat of Islamic terrorism, a far tougher approach is required, both domestically as well as in Europe and overseas. The UK's outstanding intelligence and police services are all too often let down by a political failure to stringently enforce anti-terror laws, and by European Union conventions and courts that infringe on British national sovereignty. It is vital that the British government as well as opposition parties move on to a clear war footing with regard to the scale of the threat at hand.
Greater powers should be given to the police to detain suspected terrorists without charge for periods longer than the currently allowed 28 days. The government is right to press for an extension of the limit to 56 days, and a 90-day period should be strongly considered. The U.K. should immediately withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which is acting as a block against effective counter-terrorism legislation. British anti-terrorism efforts must not be undermined by European conventions that are too often more concerned with the rights of sus¬pected terrorists than with national security. Britain cannot fight its domestic war on terrorism with both hands tied behind its back
The U.K. must also refuse to tolerate Islamic militancy in its midst, which seeks to destroy British society and impose a Muslim state. Islamic clerics who preach treason and violence should be deported and banned from re-entering the country. The Gordon Brown administration should significantly increase the number of deportations of Islamic radicals from British soil, and make every effort to ensure that such prophets of doom are never allowed back in.
Britain needs to cultivate a new generation of Muslim leaders who are untainted by association with, or sympathy for, Islamic extremism and who are proud of their British identity. There is a huge vacuum in terms of truly moderate leadership within Britain's two-million strong Muslim community, as witnessed by last year's extraordinary act of disloyalty by 38 British Muslim leaders (including the leadership of the Muslim Council of Britain) calling on then Prime Minister Tony Blair to change U.K. foreign policy or face more terror attacks. British Muslim leaders must be willing to condemn terrorism unequivocally in all its forms, and help root out extremists from Muslim communities. The unchallenged appeasement of terrorism by many Muslim leaders sets a dangerous precedent and will only increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks on British soil.
Militant Islamic groups based in the UK such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir (Islamic Party of Liberation) should have no place in British society and be placed on the government's list of proscribed organizations. Conservative Party leader David Cameron is right to call for the banning of this dangerous movement, already outlawed in Egypt and Pakistan, which supports the establishment of a Muslim caliphate or empire. At the same time, Cameron should disown recent statements made by his party's controversial Conservative Muslim Forum (CMF), a radical group that sympathizes with Iran's nuclear ambitions, opposes the banning of fundamentalist Muslim preachers from entering the UK and condemns Britain's traditional support for Israel. The establishment of the CMF is a dangerous flirtation with Islamic extremism that should be brought to an end
In addition, both the government and opposition must make a stronger long-term commitment to increased defense spending and rebuilding military capacity. Britain's battle against terrorism must be fought on several fronts, both at home and abroad, together with her closest ally the United States. The war must be taken to the enemy, including state sponsors of international terror. London spends just 2.2% of GDP on defense, the lowest level since the 1930s. Britain should spend at least 3% of GDP on defence, and ideally strive for a goal of 4% of GDP if it wishes to fight terrorism worldwide. The UK should have the capacity to take on dangerous rogue regimes such as Iran, and be able to defeat them militarily.
For Great Britain, Islamic terrorism is not some abstract foe but a deadly reality that threatens national security as well as the very fabric of British society. It is a war that must be won not only in the United Kingdom but across Europe and the globe if Western civilization and the free world are to prevail against the forces of barbarism that seek their destruction.
Nile Gardiner is the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.
First appeared in Human Events