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Phillips in conversation

by: Cara Wides - Last updated: 2006-09-12

Melanie Phillips

Melanie Phillips

Jewish journalist Melanie Phillips believes that the world is gripped by a war between Islamic extremists and the western culture, and is worried because it is not clear who is going to win.

This was one of the topics she addressed in her talk this week at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, tied in with the launch of her book "Londonistan." It looks about how the climate in modern Britain has allowed Islamic fundamentalism to flourish in London. In the book, which has been well received, she explores at how British intelligence has done nothing to prevent the growth of this dangerous movement.

Phillips opened her lecture at the LJCC by recounting how she got into journalism "by chance," adding "obviously fate decreed I should do this".

She has had a brilliant career – writing for The Guardian for 20 years, followed by stints at The Observer and The Sunday Times, before reaching her current post as a columnist with The Daily Mail.

She talked in length about how she clashed with colleagues at The Guardian over what she described as their anti-Israel attitude - she was unhappy that they gave so few column inches to problems inflicted on Israel.

Now she has ended up at The Daily Mail she joked that she has to put up with people asking why she works for the "spawn of the devil", but this is a small price to pay as the job gives her "an amazing platform". She also commended the Mail for being a place filled with people of "extreme decency, who know the difference between truth and lies" – perhaps a subtle dig at the anti-Israel bias seen in some sections of the British media.

Her LJCC lecture was delivered on the 5th anniversary of 9/11, and she said that the people in the West failed to take on board the consequences of this act of "mass lunacy" – which meant that this current "world war" was able to develop.

Phillips was unhappy about the lax attitude shown by the British government towards Islamic extremists in England who openly called for Jihad against the West after 9/11.

However she believes the problem of ignoring extremists in the UK goes back further, to the time of the Salman Rushdie"s Satanic Verses: "The British didn"t understand how serious it was when extremists in London openly called for the murder of a British citizen in the name of religion. "No one said “what is going on here?” – why wasn"t anyone locked up for this threat of murder?" She reminded the LJCC audience that there are laws in England against incitement to murder.

Phillips believes the reaction by fundamentalists to Rushdie was so irrational that the British didn't take it seriously: "We have a problem with dealing with irrationals, which means we don"t understand that they are able to convey a message that turns people into human bombs." When asked how the principal of freedom of speech fits in with all this, Phillips said: "One has to take the view that freedom of speech is fine, but no country can allow people to be engaged in promoting sedition and  subversion. These guys are radicalising thousands of people. No society should be expected to commit suicide. It is not enough to break up the terror cells, the government should say "we will not have the preaching of hatred. People who do this should be treated as pariahs and prosecuted."

"Londonistan" looks at how "minority values" such as those upheld by Islamist extremists are undermining the national British identity. A criticism of multiculturalism can be found in Londonistan – Phillips said at the LJCC that multiculturalism has enabled the "triumph of minority values."

She believes that a religion in a multicultural society must make a distinction between its private and public role. Its public role is to adhere to the values of the wider society, which she feels Islam doesn"t do. In her view, the book has received praise from some unexpected areas, and she joked that since its publication she has received emails saying: "I used to think you were an out and out Nazi, well I still think that but your book is absolutely brilliant."

During the audience question and answer session at her talk, Phillips called on the British government to wake up to "what is driving the religious fanaticism", adding that "the government should shut down the organisations that are funding these terrorist groups."

"They should be aware of the radicalisation of Muslims that is taking place in British prisons, campuses and youth clubs."

But don"t panic, because Phillips doesn"t think there is going to be a civil war in this country: "Britain doesn"t do civil wars, they are too messy.  The British are not extreme" she said sardonically.

However her conclusion to the talk was more chilling that comforting. "This is a fight. This attack from what President Bush calls "Islamic fascism" is on a whole lot of people, including moderate British Muslims. If we don"t win this war we will be dead."

'Londonistan'  is published by Gibson Square and costs £14.99. For information on future lectures at the London Jewish Cultural Centre visit www.ljcc.org.uk or phone 020 8457 5000.