Britain isn’t America, and journalists can’t ask jurors what went through their minds in the jury room. This restriction is a pity, because the cries of despair coming from the Met and MI5 suggest that they would really like to know. The authorities are astonished that although three men were convicted of conspiracy to murder in the plane bomb plot trial, no defendant was convicted of targeting the aircraft. The police even had martyrdom videos in which, for instance, Umar Islam declares: “We are doing this in order to gain the pleasure of our Lord and Allah loves us to die and kill in his path.” There is likely to be a retrial, so I need to be careful what I say. I can, however, make the wider point that we as a society don’t understand radical Islam – and don’t want to understand it either. The dumber parts of the Left blame opposition to the second Iraq War – as if Jihadis are just Liberal Democrats with bomb belts. They never think that the overthrow of Saddam was opposed by millions who would no more attack the London Underground than congratulate Tony Blair for supporting George W Bush. The dumber parts of the Right blame Islam itself, as if being a Muslim were enough to make you a terrorist. Even though they have seen al Qaeda do its worst to Iraq for years, it doesn’t occur to them that radical Islam is a fascistic movement whose first aim is to kill Muslims who believe in democracy, free-thinking, gay rights, women’s rights or any rival version of Islam that conflicts with their psychopathic theology.
Examining that theology is a treacherous task. When Channel 4’s Dispatches uncovered Saudi-financed clerics preaching hatred in Birmingham and London, the Crown Prosecution Service claimed that the broadcasters had invented their footage. The CPS had to apologise and pay libel damages but the authorities’ instant reaction was instructive: this can’t be true, we don’t want to know. As the national broadcaster, the BBC had a duty to investigate the mass murder in London on 7/7, and it duly sent a reporting team to Leeds. The journalists won the confidence of the bombers’ families and produced a picture of a ghetto where young men rebel against the traditional Islam of their parents and get sucked into the global cult of death. I’ve seen the result of their investigation and it is a brilliant and disquieting examination of a hidden world.
Even though an acclaimed playwright produced five versions of a script for a drama-documentary, the BBC cancelled the project . It, too, didn’t want to know. We may be lucky and the terror threat may be passing. But the cries of disbelief coming from the police suggest otherwise. The first task in confronting it is to face our country honestly. We have nothing to lose but our preconceptions.
IF YOU WERE to denounce the British as quivering cowards for allowing the unelected Gordon Brown to misrule them, your audience would probably applaud. I’m not sure thay would be so appreciative if an American imitated Russell Brand’s attack on Bush at the MTV awards and said: “We know Britain to be a forward-thinking country because otherwise why would you have let that retarded doltish fella be Prime Minister? We thought it was nice of you to let him have a go, because in America he wouldn’t be trusted with a pair of scissors.” It is one thing to hear a fellow citizen denigrate your country, quite another for a foreigner to do the same. Foreigners aren’t family, and must use a little tact. So although virtually everyone at the MTV bash hated Bush and supported Obama, Brand bombed. His career in the States is over, and he will be forced to spend more time performing in London. Now there’s something to look forward to.
ONLY THOSE who have lost the love of their lives will understand my desolation at sitting through a Guy Ritchie film and realising it wasn’t all bad. Of course the idea of an upper-class mockney wallowing in East End gangsterism remains as unpleasant as ever. But the London settings were well chosen, and everyone in the cinema enjoyed the action. Still, Ritchie didn’t entirely let me down. The film was shot last year, and the opening voice over describes London as a city where property prices go up and up. Like the Government and the banks, Ritchie assumed that the bubble would last forever. Wot a muppet that geezer is, as I don’t think they said at his public school.
LINDA Grant deserves to be on the new Booker shortlist. Not only does her fiction contain much poignancy and wisdom, but her wardrobe makes her the Imelda Marcos of Bloomsbury: Literary London’s queen of shoes and mistress of accessories. While ponderous commentators criticised the Republican Convention on policy grounds, Linda simply reproduced pictures of the delegates’ garish gold handbags, and declared that no respectable women could dream of voting for them. The Booker is worth £50,000. The judges may think it a substantial prize, but, let me assure them, half-an-hour with Linda on Regent’s Street and it will be gone