The British have always been proud of their tradition of hospitality and asylum, which has benefited Huguenots escaping persecution, European Jewry, and many political dissidents from Marx to Mazzini. But the appellation "Londonistan," which apparently originated with a sarcastic remark by a French intelligence officer, has come to describe a city which became home to people wanted for terrorist crimes as far afield as Cairo and Karachi. The capital of the United Kingdom is, in the words of Steven Simon, a former White House counterterrorism official, "the Star Wars bar scene," catering promiscuously to all manner of Islamist recruiters and fund-raisers for, and actual practitioners of, holy war.
In the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, which killed 52 civilians (including a young Afghan, Atique Sharifi, who had fled to London to escape the Taliban) and injured hundreds more, I found that American television interviewers were all asking me the same question: How can this be? Britain is the country of warm beer and cricket and rain-lashed seaside resorts, not a place of arms for exotic and morbid cults. British press coverage struck the same plaintive note. One of the murderers, Shehzad Tanweer, was a cricket enthusiast from Leeds, in Yorkshire, whose family ran a fish-and-chips shop. You can't get much more assimilated than that. Yet Britain's former head of domestic intelligence, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller (and you can't get much more British than that, either), said last year that there are more than "1,600 identified individuals" within the borders of the kingdom who are ready to follow Tanweer's example (including those in whose honor we now all have to part with our liquids and gels at the airport). And, according to Manningham-Buller, "over 100,000 of our citizens consider the July 2005 attacks in London justified."