Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of the day suicide bombing came to Britain. On July 7, 2005 three young British-born men exploded their devices simultaneously on the London Underground. A fourth man detonated his an hour later on a bus in Tavistock Square. Together they left 52 people dead, many more injured, and a country only starting to realise that a problem it had long exported had found its way home.
While July 7 was the first time that jihadi terrorism had come to British streets, these were not the first streets to which British-born Islamists had brought terror. Two years earlier, two young British men had gone to Mike's Place, a bar in Tel Aviv, and carried out a suicide bombing. Almost a decade before July 7 – in 1996 – the man said to have been Britain's first suicide bomber died in Afghanistan, self-detonating to kill opponents of the Taliban forces he was fighting alongside.
Omagh bombing investigator to be questionedBy 2005 British-raised jihadis had fought around the world, spurred on by radical clerics at home, backed by British networks and allowed to operate by a government and security service who believed that this was a problem for other people. It took 10 years for Britain to extradite to France the Algerian man accused of blowing up the Paris Metro in 1995. Britain had become a soft touch: a magnet for foreign jihadis and a hub of home-grown radicalisation.
To coincide with the fifth anniversary of July 7 this week, the Centre for Social Cohesion is releasing Islamist Terrorism: the British Connections. It is a 500-page, telephone directory-sized work that aims to present an overview of every traceable Islamist convicted of Islamism-inspired terrorist offences and attacks over the last decade. It also examines the scope of British-linked Islamism-inspired terrorism threats worldwide since 1993, listing many foreign combatants and extradition cases and British citizens convicted abroad.
It presents a timeline of the jihad, a list of the major networks and analysis of the data, presenting the most accurate picture possible of what makes up a violent British Islamist. Terrorism expert Marc Sageman has already said it "will become the indispensable reference for any future inquiry into British neo-jihadi terrorism". Yet it is a work that neither the Home Office nor the Crown Prosecution Service, nor any other department of government, has got around to compiling.
Contrary to government claims, there are very clear pointers as to what makes up the average individual convicted of an Islamist-inspired offence. As the profiles of 127 convictions and attacks show, the overwhelming majority of those involved (96 per cent) are men; 68 per cent are under 30; 32 per cent of those convicted have links to proscribed organisations – 14.5 per cent had links with al-Qaeda, while the largest number (15 per cent) were linked to the now banned al-Muhajiroun; and 31 per cent attended terrorist training camps abroad.
The idea that lack of opportunities, poverty or lack of education are more than an aggravating factor is not supported by the findings. A minimum of 31 per cent of those convicted of Islamist-related offences had at some point attended university or a higher education institute. Among these, as the University College London Christmas Day bomber reminded us, are people who have attended some of our finest institutions.
And the idea that a terrorist cannot to some extent be racially profiled is also wrong. Government should not ignore facts because they are difficult. Almost half of those convicted were of south-central Asian ancestry (46 per cent) – though this is lower than the percentage of Muslims in the UK who have such ancestry. But apologists for jihadis often try to claim that profiling is counter-productive. In fact, as one arm of surveillance, it can be very productive indeed.
The Intelligence and Security Committee inquiry into the July 7 bombings, published in May last year, queried the lack of a database like the one we have produced, concluding: "The Committee is both disappointed and concerned that such a simple, yet essential, piece of the evidence base – the successful conviction of terrorists – was not only unused, but was not even available."
There may be many reasons for this oversight, not least that government is now busy trying to deal with the problem it allowed to go unchallenged and even fuelled for years. But it may also be because in the wake of the July 7 bombs a polite fiction has crept into the British body politic – a fatal unwillingness to deal with facts and unpleasant truths. Our Security Service's efforts have been hugely successful – since September 11, 2001 a major plot has been thwarted nearly every year – but politically, this country's policy for dealing with radical Islam has gone off at a terrible tangent and may actually be storing up problems for the future.
It started with Tony Blair who, in the wake of the London bombs, said he would change "the rules of the game". But the rules did not change. Blair could have used the opportunity to expel foreign clerics, to pursue and lock up those who had gone to training camps, and to start explaining not how people could understand Islam better but how Islam should understand Britain better.
Instead of arguing the case for our values and the non-negotiability of our way of life, Blair and his colleagues treated the radicalisation of young Muslims as a theological issue. Via the "Prevent" strategy, millions of pounds were poured into programmes designed to encourage a different version of Islam from that of some radical ideologues. But money was spent on grassroots events at which radical preachers spoke; there was support, too, for organisations affiliated to groups such as the radical Muslim Brotherhood to carry out proselytising, or dawah, work. In many cases, both here and abroad, the government decided to ally with those who were political opponents of violent groups, but who were themselves only opposed to violence in particular contexts.
Blair's advisory committees included people who were on record expressing admiration for Osama bin Laden, people who believe British foreign policy is dictated by Jews and Freemasons, and those at best equivocal about the use of suicide bombing in certain contexts. And as usual, once government got involved, it found a way for itself to get involved more. A whole department dedicated itself to pumping out the lie that the problem was not Islamist extremism, but "violent extremism"; not jihadism but what the home secretary at the time of the Glasgow airport bombing and the attempted bombing in Haymarket, Jacqui Smith, requested be re-termed "anti-Islamic activity".
This was all part of a concerted attempt to placate Muslim demagogues who teach grievance, as well as ordinary Muslims who might feel under pressure, by pretending that absolutely anybody could become a suicide bomber – a pretence that allows Muslim leaders and communities off the hook entirely. There are many security threats facing this country. There are the continuing efforts by Irish republicans who have not accepted the Good Friday Agreement. There are the so-called "lone-wolf" white racists like the Brixton, Soho and Brick Lane bomber David Copeland. But by far and away the greatest security threat, our Security Service estimates, is the threat of what it terms "al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism". Yet government has been desperate to evade this fact.
The Security Service believes that more than 2,000 people in the UK pose a terrorist threat; in March 2005, it was estimated that up to 200 al-Qaeda operatives were in the UK. In January of this year the terror threat level was raised from "substantial" to "severe", meaning an attack is "highly likely".
Our police and Security Service continue to do the hard work of preventing actual attacks, and have been remarkably successful. Yet for the past five years the major political parties have failed in their principal task, which should be to argue for British values. MPs who have spoken out frankly have been silenced or reprimanded by their parties. Outspoken critics of radical Islam have been sidelined or ignored.
Senior counter-terrorism officials have made clear that it is a matter of "when" not "if" the next July 7 occurs. By engaging extremists and sidelining not just progressive Muslims but also the mainstream opinions of British society, government has done much to store up far more problems in the future. In the long run, is it better for Britain to Islamicise or for Islam to become more British? Any government worthy of governing Britain should be able to answer that clearly.
Douglas Murray is director of the Centre for Social Cohesion