LANDS OF UNBELIEF

If that sounds familiar, it should. As we have seen, those used to be among the key foundations of Western civilization. Yet in recent years we in the West have seemed to lose our faith in them. Not only are the churches of Europe empty. We also seem to doubt the value of much of what developed in Europe after the Reformation. Capitalist competition has been disgraced by the recent financial crisis and the rampant greed of the bankers. Science is studied by too few of our children at school and university. Private property rights are repeatedly violated by governments that seem to have an insatiable appetite for taxing our incomes and our wealth and wasting a large portion of the proceeds. Empire has become a dirty word, despite the benefits conferred on the rest of the world by the European imperialists. All we risk being left with are a vacuous consumer society and a culture of relativism – a culture that says any theory or opinion, no matter how outlandish, is just as good as whatever it was we used to believe in.

Contrary to popular belief, Chesterton did not say: ‘The trouble with atheism is that when men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing. They believe in anything.’ But he has Father Brown say something very like it in ‘The Miracle of Moon Crescent’:

You all swore you were hard-shelled materialists; and as a matter of fact you were all balanced on the very edge of belief – of belief in almost anything. There are thousands balanced on it today; but it’s a sharp, uncomfortable edge to sit on. You won’t rest until you believe something.89

To understand the difference between belief and unbelief, consider the conversation between Muktar Said Ibrahim, one of the Islamists whose plot to detonate bombs in the London transport system was discovered in 2005, and a former neighbour of his in Stanmore, a suburb in the northern outskirts of London. Born in Eritrea, Ibrahim had moved to Britain at the age of fourteen and had just been granted UK citizenship, despite a conviction and prison sentence for his involvement in an armed robbery. ‘He asked me’, Sarah Scott recalled, ‘if I was Catholic because I have Irish family. I said I didn’t believe in anything and he said I should. He told me he was going to have all these virgins when he got to Heaven if he praises Allah. He said if you pray to Allah and if you have been loyal to Allah you would get 80 virgins, or something like that.’ It is the easiest thing in the world to ridicule the notion, apparently a commonplace among jihadis, that this is the reward for blowing up infidels. But is it significantly stranger to believe, like Sarah Scott, in nothing at all? Her recollected conversation with Ibrahim is fascinating precisely because it illuminates the gulf that now exists in Western Europe between a minority of fanatics and a majority of atheists. ‘He said’, Scott recalled after her former neighbour’s arrest, ‘people were afraid of religion and people should not be afraid.’90

What Chesterton feared was that, if Christianity declined in Britain, ‘superstition’ would ‘drown all your old rationalism and scepticism’. From aromatherapy to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the West today is indeed awash with post-modern cults, none of which offers anything remotely as economically invigorating or socially cohesive as the old Protestant ethic. Worse, this spiritual vacuum leaves West European societies vulnerable to the sinister ambitions of a minority of people who do have religious faith – as well as the political ambition to expand the power and influence of that faith in their adopted countries. That the struggle between radical Islam and Western civilization can be caricatured as ‘Jihad vs McWorld’ speaks volumes.91 In reality, the core values of Western civilization are directly threatened by the brand of Islam espoused by terrorists like Muktar Said Ibrahim, derived as it is from the teachings of the nineteenth-century Wahhabist Sayyid Jamal al-Din and the Muslim Brotherhood leaders Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb.92 The separation of church and state, the scientific method, the rule of law and the very idea of a free society – including relatively recent Western principles like the equality of the sexes and the legality of homosexual acts – all these things are openly repudiated by the Islamists.

Estimates of the Muslim population of West European countries vary widely. According to one estimate the total population has risen from around 10 million in 1990 to 17 million in 2010.93 As a share of national populations, Muslim communities range in size from as much as 9.8 per cent in France to as little as 0.2 per cent in Portugal.94 Such figures seem to belie the warnings of some scholars of a future ‘Eurabia’ – a continent Islamicized by the end of the twenty-first century. However, if the Muslim population of the UK were to continue growing at an annual rate of 6.7 per cent (as it did between 2004 and 2008), its share of the total UK population would rise from just under 4 per cent in 2008 to 8 per cent in 2020, to 15 per cent in 2030 and to 28 per cent in 2040, finally passing 50 per cent in 2050.95

Mass immigration is not necessarily the solvent of a civilization, if the migrants embrace, and are encouraged to embrace, the values of the civilization to which they are moving. But in cases where immigrant communities are not successfully assimilated and then become prey to radical ideologues, the consequences can be profoundly destabilizing.96 The crucial thing is not sheer numbers so much as the extent to which some Muslim communities have been penetrated by Islamist organizations like the Arab Muslim Brotherhood, the Pakistani Jama’at-i Islami, the Saudi-financed Muslim World League and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth. In Britain, to take perhaps the most troubling example, there is an active Muslim Brotherhood offshoot called the Muslim Association of Britain, two Jama’at-i Islami spin-offs, the Islamic Society of Britain and its youth wing, Young Muslims UK, as well as an organization called Hizb ut-Tahrir (‘Party of Liberation’). Hizb ut-Tahrir openly proclaims its intention to make ‘Britain … an Islamic state by the year 2020!’97 Also known to be active in recruiting terrorists are al-Qaeda and the equally dangerous Harakat ul-Mujahideen. Such infiltration is by no means unique to the UK.*

The case of Shehzad Tanweer illustrates how insidious the process of radicalization is. Tanweer was one of the suicide bombers who wreaked havoc in London on 7 July 2005, detonating a bomb aboard a Circle Line Underground train between Aldgate and Liverpool Street that killed himself and six other passengers. Born in Yorkshire in 1983, Tanweer was not poor; his father, an immigrant from Pakistan, had built up a successful takeaway food business, selling fish and chips and driving a Mercedes. He was not uneducated, in so far as a degree in sports science from Leeds Metropolitan University counts as education. His case suggests that no amount of economic, educational and recreational opportunity can prevent the son of a Muslim immigrant from being converted into a fanatic and a terrorist if the wrong people get to him. In this regard, a crucial role is being played at universities and elsewhere by Islamic ‘centres’, some of which are little more than recruiting agencies for jihad. Often, such centres act as gateways to training camps in countries like Pakistan, where the new recruits from bilad al-kufr (the lands of unbelief) are sent for more practical forms of indoctrination. Between 1999 and 2009 a total of 119 individuals were found guilty of Islamism-related terrorist offences in the UK, more than two-thirds of them British nationals. Just under a third had attended an institute of higher education, and about the same proportion had attended a terrorist training camp.98 It has been as much through luck as through effective counter-terrorism that other attacks by British-based jihadis have been thwarted, notably the plot in August 2006 by a group of young British Muslims to detonate home-made bombs aboard multiple transatlantic planes, and the attempt by a Nigerian-born graduate of University College London to detonate plastic explosive concealed in his underwear as his flight from Amsterdam was nearing Detroit airport on Christmas Day 2009.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!