Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday 2 March 2024


Britain, Islamism and the Forgotten Lessons of Appeasement


Dominic Green

March 1, 2024 5:27 pm ET

Protesters hold placards and Palestinian flags during a rally in London, Feb. 21. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images


Britain’s appeasement of Islamism, and a Conservative government’s unwillingness to enforce the law, has caused a crisis of democracy. For months, the government failed to counter the carnival of hatred that is London’s weekly anti-Israel marches. On Feb. 21, the tide of antidemocratic incitement reached the gates of Westminster, and the mother of parliaments surrendered to the mob.

The Scottish National Party had proposed a motion calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, scheduled to be debated that day. The intention was to pull Labour, the leading opposition party, off the fence on which its leader, Keir Starmer, has so carefully balanced it. Normally, a motion like this goes directly to a vote. This time the speaker of the Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, broke with precedent, surrendering to Labour’s pressure and proposing an amendment that its members could support.

Mr. Hoyle said he interfered with the legislative process because he didn’t want “another attack on this House,” a reference to the 2017 terrorist attack that killed five in and around Parliament. He feared that if he forced Labour moderates to vote against the original motion, he would be endangering their lives.

Mr. Hoyle is fighting for his job, but we can see why he thought discretion was the better part of valor. A mob of Palestinian Solidarity Campaign supporters had besieged Parliament and projected the genocidal slogan “From the river to the sea” onto the Elizabeth Tower, better known as Big Ben. The group’s leader, Ben Jamal, had exhorted his followers to “ramp up pressure” and force the police to “lock the doors of Parliament itself.”

Two members of Parliament have been assassinated since 2016. That year Labour’s Jo Cox was on her way to a surgery when a neo-Nazi shot and stabbed her to death in the street. In 2021 the Conservatives’ David Amess was fatally stabbed by an Islamic State follower at a surgery held in a church. In 2010, Labour’s Stephen Timms was seriously wounded in a knife attack by an al Qaeda sympathizer for, she said, his support of the Iraq war. The sharp rise in threats and harassment since Oct. 7 has forced members to rely in part on private security.

In early February, Mike Freer, a government minister, announced he won’t run for re-election. Mr. Freer, who represents a heavily Jewish constituency of North London, isn’t Jewish but supports Israel and campaigns against antisemitism. He’s endured death threats, homophobic insults, fake bombs left on his doorstep, and an arson attack on his office. He had already been wearing a stab vest to public events on police advice and considers himself “lucky to be alive.”

Labour members get more threats. The party’s “red-green” electoral strategy depends on the Muslim-rich urban vote. While Mr. Starmer talks moderation in Westminster, Labour moderates are menaced by their own voters for insufficient anti-Zionist zeal. Sometimes the fulminators are from the hard left, but they’re usually Muslim. Churchill defined an appeaser as someone who “feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.” When Labour’s appeasers proffered the Jews and the party’s principles as appetizers, they made themselves the main course.

Last month Rachel Reeves, who will be the next chancellor of the exchequer if the Conservatives continue to self-destruct, was chased in the street by anti-Israel activists. Then, in a Feb. 29 by-election, Labour lost its previously safe seat in the heavily Muslim northern city of Rochdale. The party dropped its candidate, Azhar Ali, after it emerged that he suggested Israel allowed the Oct. 7 attacks as a pretext to invade Gaza. This allowed the extremist George Galloway, who was expelled from Labour in 2003, to win by attacking the party as weak on Gaza.

While diversity remains our strength, at least officially, Britain’s political class fortifies the Westminster “bubble.” The media hector the public about its “far right” objections to immigration. The police appeal limply to “community relations” as if naming the community that needs relationship counseling is above its pay grade. The BBC described the surge in reported antisemitic incidents in October—up 1,350% from a year earlier—as if it were inclement weather, not a victimless crime but one without perpetrators.

Mayor Sadiq Khan denounces “Islamophobia” with the ardor of an identity politician running for re-election. Politicians and columnists sing choruses against the “scourge of antisemitism” but can’t say who’s scourging whom. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says that “from the river to the sea” is racist and that incitement against Jews is “un-British” but he too can’t say who is attacking British democracy. Naming the problem admits its existence, and its scale.

Maria Lovegrove, head of the government’s antiradicalization program, Prevent, says the organization is racing to “flatten the curve, before it becomes a generational radicalizing moment.” That moment passed in the previous generation. A 2018 U.K. government report found that more than 900 British Muslims “of national security concern,” including women, had traveled to “engage with the conflict in Syria”: more than the number then serving in Britain’s armed forces, and more than the Irish Republican Army’s estimated number of active fighters at the time of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

British democracy and society are at a crunch point. Multiculturalism, political correctness and a deliberate failure to enforce immigration law have fostered a domestic-terrorist problem of unprecedented scale and complexity. The vast majority of the British people are repelled by extremism, appalled at the demolition of their values, and outraged by the cowardice of their rulers. Last month the red-green alliance crossed the

and bullied Parliament into submission. This is how a democracy dies.

Mr. Green is a Journal contributor and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Wonder Land: If you were an adversary looking at a U.S. uncertainty about its global leadership, what would you do? Answer: Up the ante—which is exactly what Iran, Russia and others are doing. Images: AP/AFP/Getty Images/Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the March 2, 2024, print edition as 'Britain, Islamism and the Forgotten Lessons of Appeasement'.

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