In the wake of the London bombings, a nasty strain of thinking has emerged in the US which threatens to turn the "war on terror" into a global "war on Islam". This began as worries over whether Europe's Muslims posed a threat to the US, with an implicit call for visitors to the US to be screened on the basis of their religion (something the US, to its discredit, now seems to be implementing). It has since morphed into a wider attack on "permissive" European immigration policies. For example, James Pinkerton of Newsweek asks "Can we learn from Britain's mistake?" - the mistake being, in their words,
a disastrous social experiment in Great Britain: the bringing in of large numbers of barely assimilated, barely patriotic and sometimes openly hostile foreigners into that country.
This is coupled with a call for action:
If a group can't be made, one way or another, to abide by the rules of its adopted home country, the group ought not to be living freely in that country.
But as has become tragically clear over the past few days, the UK wasn't the bombers' "adopted" country - it was their country. The London bombers were as British as the Queen. What would the US have the UK do? Start rounding up its Muslim citizens and putting them in camps? Likewise, how can the US do as Pinkerton asks and stop New York from becoming "New Yorkistan"? Evict residents and strip US citizens of their citizenship on the basis of their religion, regardless of their actual actions or beliefs? Herd them onto jumbo jets headed east? Are pogroms and ethnic clensing now really required in the name of American security?
The British response, while not nearly as hysterical, is still worrying. Blair has promised to tackle extremism, by jailing people for "inciting terrorism" and abrogating the ECHR, Refugee Convention and Convention Against Torture in order to deport or exclude refugees with extremist views. It's easy to see the potential for abuse - any criticism of US or British policy in the Middle East could be classified as "incitement". The result, perversely, may be a growth rather than reduction of extremism. The Guardian's Dilpazier Aslam points out that the reluctance of British Muslim leaders to rock the boat by criticising such obvious injustices as Fallujah drives younger Muslims towards extremism. By threatening to criminalise such criticism, the British government will simply strengthen this pull, and allow extremism to fester in secret. Worse, they will also discourage debate on whether the tactics of terrorism can be justified - and it is by winning this debate, rather than by throwing people in jail, that extremist terrorism will be defeated in the long term.