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Today, some 100,000 people are expected to demonstrate in London’s Hyde Park against the Blair government’s Iraq policy. This “Stop the War” march is the biggest protest in British history since–well, since 400,000 people turned out the previous weekend to protest the Blair government’s proposed ban on fox hunting.
I’ve spent a week here talking to politicians and journalists, and I have found almost none of them gung-ho for war. But while they are not eager, the majority are ready to act. While 160 of the Labor Government’s 412 Members of Parliament have in one way or another signalled doubts about the war, when it came time to vote on Wednesday, only 53 of them took a formal stance against armed force. The Conservatives abstained from Wednesday’s vote for tactical reasons, but it’s probably safe to say that some two-thirds of the members of the British House of Commons have accepted the need to fight Saddam Hussein. Opponents of the war are a strangely mixed bunch. A scattering of right-wing Tories oppose the war because they hate America and Israel more than they fear Saddam. Some of them have consulting contracts with the Arab world; some are actuated by lingering resentment of American wealth and power; and one or two just want to annoy their party’s pro-American new leader, Iain Duncan Smith.
Britain’s far left likewise opposes the Iraq war on anti-American grounds. The prominent Indian writer Arundhati Roy opined in the left-wing newspaper the Guardian on Thursday, the war on terror “is America’s perfect war, the perfect vehicle for the endless expansion of American imperialism.” There are many here who will back any tyrant, no matter how vicious, so long as he hates America: Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, Arafat, and now Saddam.
But the archaic right and the hard left together hardly add up to an effective political movement. The raw numbers for today’s big march are coming from a new direction: Britain’s large and increasingly outspoken Muslim community. The march is co-sponsored by the Muslim Association of Britain, and organizers predict that more than half of the marchers will come from the country’s mosques and Islamic associations.
Curiously, the same British Muslim groups that plead for Saddam loudly support Yasser Arafat’s terror war upon Israel. For them, the issue is not “peace” but power: They hate and fear American power–and so they support Saddam, the one Arab leader strong enough and reckless enough to defy the United States.
Television pundits often claim that there simply cannot be an alliance between Saddam and al-Qaeda: Saddam, they say, is a secular nationalist; al-Qaeda is Islamic and fundamentalist. But as thousands of men and women in Islamic garb rally in support of Saddam, it’s time to rethink. In a conflict between Saddam and the West, Muslim fundamentalists are backing Saddam: Why assume that Saddam would not back his local rivals against their joint enemy?
Is today’s London demonstration a sign of things to come? Will the anti-American hard left in Europe make common cause with Islamic extremists? It has happened before. In the 1970s, the German Baader-Meinhoff gang collaborated with Palestinian nationalists in the Entebbe hijacking. The IRA received arms from Libya. This very year, the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn–an outspoken opponent of radical Islam in the Netherlands–was assassinated by an environmentalist fanatic.
Even when it does not turn to violence, Muslim radicalism is reshaping European politics. Gerhard Schroeder’s anti-American appeal in last weekend’s German election helped win Muslim votes for his Social Democratic Party. At a conference in Washington in June, leading French politicians explained that their country hesitated to join America’s war on terror for fear of provoking terrorism inside France: In 1995, Islamic radicals detonated bombs all over Paris to deter France from supporting the Algerian government against its Islamist enemies–and the French government feared more bombings if it joined America against the Sept. 11 killers.
The British government is stauncher than those of Germany and France. But even here, Europe’s demographic realities are having an effect. One hears surprisingly little anti-American talk. But the animosity toward Israel is fierce. It was the British press that publicized the Jenin massacre hoax, and the Prime Minister’s wife, Cherie Blair, has publicly expressed her sympathy for Palestinian suicide-bombers.
For now, British policy remains basically friendly toward Israel. The anti-Semitic rioting that has disgraced France and now Quebec is not tolerated here.
And it’s true too that the large majority of Muslim people in Britain are not extreme or even very political. They came to Europe to escape the tyranny and chaos of their home countries, not to bring that tyranny and chaos with them. But there is a radical minority–and it appears to be growing, both in numbers and in assertiveness. It was from this radical minority that Richard Reid, the would-be shoe-bomber, was recruited. At least four British nationals were killed fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan; at least one is being detained in Guantanamo Bay.
Today Britain’s radical Muslim minority is gathering in Hyde Park. Tomorrow: who knows?
David Frum is a visiting fellow at AEI.
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