After every attack, there is a pause while ideologues sniff the wind. If it is an Islamist easterly, the worst elements of the right know what to do. They score points with corpses, make weapons from wounds and say violence was a logical consequence of immigration and multiculturalism, policies they already opposed, and, for this is often overlooked, would have continued to oppose regardless of whether there were terrorist attacks.
Far from shocking them into fresh thinking, “shocking” violence confirms what they already knew. They are comfortable with it, as people always are comfortable with information that can be moulded to confirm their prejudices.
The worst elements on the left once exploited Islamism in an identical manner. When jihadis attacked New York, London or Paris they, too, joined what I called the “kill us, we deserve it” school of foreign policy analysis. In their case, it was not our tolerance of immigration that brought punishment. Rather, they explained away the crimes of an irrational religious totalitarianism as logical responses to western foreign policy, poverty or discrimination, which, and since you mentioned it, they already opposed.
Outside Stop the War, you hear less of that argument now. Perhaps it has finally sunk in that portraying Muslims as bombs primed to explode on western provocation was a picture that drew appreciative applause from a far right that held that Muslims could never live peacefully in the west.
Now the worst of the left pauses and sniffs the wind in the eager hope of having its beliefs confirmed, only if the violence is white racist violence blown in from the west. If it sounds as if I am drawing a moral equivalence, I don’t mean to. The worst of the right is in government in the United States and much of Europe. Its prejudices matter because they have the power to shape the world.
When Nigel Farage blamed the attack on Tony Blair’s immigration policies, and said that there should now be “extreme vetting” of Muslim immigrants and visitors, he was not speaking as a fringe figure. Farage, more than any other politician, made Brexit possible. He is also a friend of Donald Trump, the most powerful man in the world, who once promised to ban all Muslim visitors to America. You could say that Farage was committing a fraud on the gullible. The Westminster terrorist was not an immigrant, but British born. He wasn’t brought up a Muslim, but converted. Not a word our suburban Mussolini said about this atrocity was relevant. But as Brexit shows, Mr Farage is not a man to worry overmuch about the details.
Equally, when Donald Trump Jr falsely implied that the London mayor had dismissed terror attacks as an inconvenience we had to live with, he was not just another rich sprog mouthing his parents’ prejudices. This sprog was the sprig of the United States’ first family and imitating his father’s tactics.
Calling out the liars remains essential. Far from being complacent, Sadiq Khan was asking for better security and increased vigilance. The lies Trump junior and Farage were prepared to spread about him showed that they cannot abide any liberal Muslim. I could go on with the fact checking. London was not “shut down” and Londoners were not “cowed”, as Fox News commentators claimed. We have immigrants from all over the world and all over the country. In spite of that, or perhaps because of that, we maintain the traditional virtue of a stiff upper lip far better than Middle England, which has proved with the EU that it loses its head while all about are keeping theirs.
But it is not enough to call out. The power of the conspiratorial right is creating a new world and to fight it you must understand it as well as expose it. Ever since the foundation of the Anglo-American alliance in the Second World War, it would have been unthinkable for the US to spread a direct lie about British intelligence to cover up the transparently false allegations of an American president.
You do not treat your allies like props in a propaganda games. Honourable US officials have said there was no truth in the accusation that GCHQ was tapping Trump at Obama’s request, but the Trump administration will not apologise.
You learn who your friends are when national security is at stake. Too many countries in the splintering western alliance are learning that they cannot rely on Trump’s America. This diplomatic crisis would be bad enough for Britain at the best of times. But in abandoning our European alliances and throwing ourselves on a capricious US, we are displaying the worst timing imaginable. Even if alt-right ideas don’t infect the British Conservative party – and no one can predict that they won’t – we will have to bow before a faithless US.
There is a powerful case to be made against the version of multiculturalism that abandons women in ethnic minority communities to second-class lives and the institutionalised bigotry of religious courts. One has an absolute duty to support liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims in the struggle against theocratic power and my generation of alleged liberals and leftists has disgraced itself by its failure to be adamant on this point.
But the alt-right is not saying that human rights are universal or they are nothing. It damns human rights, however they are applied. It doesn’t want a multiculturalism that does not use fake accusations of racism and Islamophobia as a cover for the abuse of religious power. It wants a white monoculture. It maintains that hundreds of millions of people with wildly variant beliefs can be lumped together as “the Muslims”. The feminist fighting sharia councils is no different from the apologist for Iran. The defender of freedom of speech is no better than the blasphemy-damning Sunni cleric. Now they are in power, let us see where their “ideas” lead.
Trump’s travel ban follows. But the logic of the clash of civilisations does not stop there. If all Muslims in the west are the same, what should happen to Muslim citizens in the west? Should there be a Muslim register, as Trump has suggested? Should they be deported? If converts to Islam can turn terrorist, should conversion to Islam be banned as conversion to Christianity is banned in Saudi Arabia? After men such as Farage stop blaming liberals, what are their plans for the immigrants who are now our fellow citizens?
Once, it would have been hysterical even to suggest such questions. Today, I wish our tame broadcasters would ask them.