Terrorism and the London response
Editorial comment, Evening Standard, 5 September 2006
THE POLL that we publish today of Londoners’ attitudes to Muslims and terrorism raises some disturbing conclusions about the social impact of terrorism.
More than a third of all Londoners – and more than a quarter of non-white Londoners – say they have felt uncomfortable near people of Asian or North African appearance on public transport. One-sixth of all Londoners surveyed have felt unhappy enough to move seats in such a situation.
Despite those anxieties, London has not been riven by the communal strife or racism predicted by some in the wake of the 7 July bombings last year.
Yet there is a clear warning in these poll figures for both the Government and for leaders of the Muslim community.
Only a quarter of those surveyed said they had confidence in the Government’s ability to tackle Islamic extremism. There was a clear majority in favour of extending the limit for the police holding terror suspects to 90 days, as originally proposed by the Government, and significant support for racial profiling of passengers to be searched at airports.
This will be a boost to those ministers, including the Home Secretary, John Reid, who favour tougher measures – although it is scarcely an endorsement of the Government’s response to extremism.
But the poll should send an equally clear message to Muslim leaders: three-quarters thought they could do much more to tackle extremism. The response of organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain to terror raids and tougher laws has almost invariably been to cast Muslims as the victims, effectively playing down the anxieties of the majority of Londoners, whites and non-whites alike.
The Government needs to take a less indulgent line towards such self-appointed leaders – and the community leaders themselves need to prove that they are actively working against extremism.
London’s tolerance and openness has held up amazingly well to date. It would be a tragedy if it were damaged by one community’s reluctance to face up to the threat.