There are reasonable grounds for suspicion, of course. Surveys—for whatever they are worth—show a surprising, and horrifying, degree of sympathy, if not outright support, for the bombers on the part of the young Muslim population of Britain. They show that a large number of Muslims in Britain want the implementation of Sharia law and think that murdering British Jews is justified simply because they are Jews. And when an atrocity is perpetrated by a Muslim, they evince no passion remotely comparable to that aroused by, say, the work of Salman Rushdie.
On the other hand, day-to-day relations with Muslims are often polite and friendly, and large numbers of Muslim small businessmen depend upon such relations with their non-Muslim customers for a living. This could change. One of the most sinister effects of the efforts of the bombers and would-be bombers is that they have undermined trust completely. This is because those under investigation turn out not to be cranks or marginals but people who are either well-integrated into society, superficially at least, or who have good career prospects. They are not the ignorant and uneducated—quite the reverse. Seven people detained in the latest plot worked in the medical profession.
Mistrust of Muslims in Britain has developed quite quickly and could develop much further. In my youth, I traveled extensively in the Muslim world and lived for a time in Africa with a Muslim family without being aware of any hostility or antagonism on my part toward the religion or culture. Had I been a woman, it might have been different, of course. Contrary to what the late Edward Said, author of the anti-Western “Orientalism,” might have thought, I had inherited no anti-Muslim prejudice.
Now, despite friendly and long-lasting relations with many Muslims, my first reaction on seeing Muslims in the street is mistrust; my prejudice, far from having been inherited or inculcated early in life, developed late in response to events.
The fundamental problem is this: There is an asymmetry between the good that many moderate Muslims can do for Britain and the harm that a few fanatics can do to it. The 1-in-1,000 chance that a man is a murderous fanatic is more important to me than the 999-in-1,000 chance that he is not a murderous fanatic: If, that is, he is not especially valuable or indispensable to me in some way.
And the plain fact of the matter is that British society could get by perfectly well without the contribution even of moderate Muslims. The only thing we really want from Muslims is their oil money for bank deposits, to prop up London property prices, and to sustain the luxury market. Their cheap labor that we imported in the 1960s in a vain effort to bolster the dying textile industry, which could not find local labor, is now redundant.
In other words, one of the achievements of the bombers and would-be bombers is to make discrimination against most Muslims who wish to enter Britain a perfectly rational policy. This is not to say that the government would espouse it, other than surreptitiously by giving secret directions to visa offices around the world. But why should a country take an unnecessary risk without a compensatory benefit?