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Muslim integration is central to Europe’s counterterror agenda.
British police on Tuesday identified the terrorist bomber who blew himself up outside Manchester Arena on Monday night as Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old born in Manchester. This means Britain has been terrorized again by a native-born Muslim who became radicalized while enjoying the freedoms of Western society.
Islamic State took credit for the attack, and we’ll learn more in the days ahead about how Abedi turned to jihad. But the Manchester bombing follows the vehicular assault near Parliament in March that was also perpetrated by a native British Muslim.
This is the devilish challenge Western officials face as they attempt to stop attacks like Monday’s on teenage and preteen girls attending a show by pop star Ariana Grande. At least 22 were killed and 58 wounded in the deadliest attack in Britain since the London Underground bombings of July 7, 2005.
British security forces have a better record than many European governments in foiling terror. Prosecutors convicted 264 people on Islamism-related terror offenses between 1998 and 2015, according to an open-source study by the London-based Henry Jackson Society. The figures don’t include cases that don’t end in convictions and often remain classified.
Yet the homegrown radical who is increasingly recruited by groups like Islamic State is hard to identify and stop. This is why governments must tackle the problem at its roots in Muslim communities that are isolated from mainstream society in major cities such as Manchester, Paris and Brussels.
British opinion surveys consistently find gaps between the attitudes of Muslims and the liberal ethos of the wider culture, on everything from homosexuality to women’s rights to anti-Semitism. One survey last year found that 7% of British Muslims support an Islamic caliphate while 4% believe terrorism is an acceptable form of protest—a large pool of potential jihadists. Promoting integration involves deeper questions about belonging and identity that don’t have easy answers. But one way to start is to consistently enforce British laws in all communities.
Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday halted her re-election campaign and vowed “to take on and defeat the ideology that often fuels this violence.” Speaking in the West Bank, President Trump condemned the “evil losers in life” who carry out such violence. That note about “losers” is welcome even as it’s jarringly colloquial, since Islamists see themselves at the vanguard of a triumphant millenarian ideology. Leaders should look for opportunities to undermine that narrative.
Muslims will have to take ultimate responsibility for rooting out radicals in their midst. British Muslim groups such as the counterterror Quilliam Foundation have made strides, but they are often in the minority among imams and community leaders. As long as that continues, the failure of integration will pose a mortal threat to Europe.
Appeared in the May. 24, 2017, print edition.