The city of Birmingham in the West Midlands, the heart of England, the place where the Industrial Revolution began, the second city of the UK and the eighth-largest in Europe, today is Britain's most dangerous city. With a large and growing Muslim population, five of its electoral wards have the highest levels of radicalization and terrorism in the country.
In February, French journalist Rachida Samouri published an article in the Parisian daily Le Figaro, in which she recounted her experiences during a visit there. In "Birmingham à l'heure islamiste" ("Birmingham in the Time of Islam") she describes her unease with the growing dislocation between normative British values and those of the several Islamic enclaves. She mentions the Small Heath quarter, where nearly 95% of the population is Muslim, where little girls wear veils; most of the men wear beards, and women wear jilbabs and niqabs to cover their bodies and faces. Market stalls close for the hours of prayer; the shops display Islamic clothes and the bookshops are all religious. Women she interviewed condemned France as a dictatorship based on secularism (laïcité), which they said they regarded as "a pretext for attacking Muslims". They also said that they approved of the UK because it allowed them to wear a full veil.
Another young woman, Yasmina, explained that, although she may go out to a club at night, during the day she is forced to wear a veil and an abaya [full body covering]. She then goes on to speak of the extremists:
"In England, they are free to speak. They speak only of prohibitions, they impose on one their rigid vision of Islam but, on the other hand, they listen to no-one, most of all those who disagree with them."
Speaking of the state schools, Samouri describes "an Islamization of education unthinkable in our [French] secular republic". Later, she interviews Ali, an 18-year-old of French origin, whose father has become radicalized. Ali talks about his experience of Islamic education:
"There are plenty of private Muslim schools and madrasas in this city. They pretend that they all preach tolerance, love and peace, but that isn't true. Behind their walls, they force-feed us with repetitive verses of the Qur'an, about hate and intolerance."
Samouri cites Ali on the iron discipline imposed on him, the brutality used, the punishment for refusing to learn the Qur'an by heart without understanding a word of it, or for admitting he has a girlfriend.
Elsewhere, Samouri notes young Muslim preachers for whom "Shari'a law remains the only safety for the soul and the only code of law to which we must refer". She interviews members of a Shari'a "court" before speaking with Gina Khan, an ex-Muslim who belongs to the anti-Shari'a organization One Law for All. According to Samouri, Khan -- a secular feminist -- considers the tribunals "a pretext for keeping women under pressure and a means for the religious fundamentalists to extend their influence within the community".
Another teenager of French origin explains how his father prefers Birmingham to France because "one can wear the veil without any problem and one can find schools where boys and girls do not mix". "Birmingham," says Mobin, "is a little like a Muslim country. We are among ourselves, we do not mix. It's hard".
Samouri herself finds this contrast between secular France and Muslim England disturbing. She sums it up thus:
"A state within a state, or rather a rampant Islamization of one part of society -- [is] something which France has succeeded in holding off for now, even if its secularist model is starting to be put to the test".
Another French commentator, republishing Samouri's article, writes, "Birmingham is worse than Molenbeek" -- the Brussels borough that The Guardian described as "becoming known as Europe's jihadi central."
The comparison with Molenbeek may be somewhat exaggerated. What is perplexing is that French writers should focus on a British city when, in truth, the situation in France -- despite its secularism -- is in some ways far worse than in the UK. Recent authors have commented on France's growing love for Islam and its increasing weakness in the face of Islamist criminality. This weakness has been framed by a politically-correct desire to stress a multiculturalist policy at the expense of taking Muslim extremists and fundamentalist organizations at face value and with zero tolerance for their anti-Western rhetoric and actions. The result? Jihadist attacks in France have been among the worst in history. It is calculated that the country has some some 751 no-go zones ("zones urbaines sensibles"), places where extreme violence breaks out from time to time and where the police, firefighters, and other public agents dare not enter for fear of provoking further violence.
Many national authorities and much of the media deny that such enclaves exist, but as the Norwegian expert Fjordman has recently explained:
If you say that there are some areas where even the police are afraid to go, where the country's normal, secular laws barely apply, then it is indisputable that such areas now exist in several Western European countries. France is one of the hardest hit: it has a large population of Arab and African immigrants, including millions of Muslims.
There are no such zones in the UK, certainly not at that level. There are Muslim enclaves in several cities where a non-Muslim may not be welcome; places that resemble Pakistan or Bangladesh more than England. But none of these is a no-go zone in the French, German or Swedish sense -- places where the police, ambulances, and fire brigades are attacked if they enter, and where the only way in (to fight a fire, for example) is under armed escort.
Samouri opens her article with a bold-type paragraph stating:
"In the working-class quarters of the second city of England, the sectarian lifestyle of the Islamists increasingly imposes itself and threatens to blow up a society which has fallen victim to its multicultural utopia".
Has she seen something British commentators have missed?
The Molenbeek comparison may not be entirely exaggerated. In a 1000-page report, "Islamist Terrorism: Analysis of Offences and Attacks in the UK (1998-2015)," written by the respected analyst Hannah Stuart for Britain's Henry Jackson Society, Birmingham is named more than once as Britain's leading source of terrorism. 
One conclusion that stands out is that terror convictions have apparently doubled in the past five years. Worse, the number of offenders not previously known to the authorities has increased sharply. Women's involvement in terrorism, although still less than men's, "has trebled over the same period". Alarmingly, "Proportionally, offences involving beheadings or stabbings (planned or otherwise) increased eleven-fold across the time periods, from 4% to 44%." (p. xi)
Only 10% of the attacks are committed by "lone wolves"; almost 80% were affiliated with, inspired by or linked to extremist networks -- with 25% linked to al-Muhajiroun alone. As the report points out, that organization (which went under various names) was once defended by some Whitehall officials -- a clear indication of governmental naivety.
Omar Bakri Muhammed, who co-founded the British Islamist organization al-Muhajiroun, admitted in a 2013 television interview that he and co-founder Anjem Choudary sent western jihadists to fight in many different countries. (Image source: MEMRI video screenshot)
A more important conclusion, however, is that a clear link is shown between highly-segregated Muslim areas and terrorism. As the Times report on the Henry Jackson Society review points out, this link "was previously denied by many". On the one hand:
Nearly half of all British Muslims live in neighbourhoods where Muslims form less than a fifth of the population. However, a disproportionately low number of Islamist terrorists — 38% — come from such neighbourhoods. The city of Leicester, which has a sizeable but well-integrated Muslim population, has bred only two terrorists in the past 19 years.
But on the other hand:
Only 14% of British Muslims live in neighbourhoods that are more than 60% Muslim. However, the report finds, 24% of all Islamist terrorists come from these neighbourhoods. Birmingham, which has both a large and a highly segregated Muslim population, is perhaps the key example of the phenomenon.
The report continues:
Just five of Britain's 9,500 council wards — all in Birmingham — account for 26 convicted terrorists, a tenth of the national total. The wards — Springfield, Sparkbrook, Hodge Hill, Washwood Heath and Bordesley Green — contain sizeable areas where the vast majority of the population is Muslim.
Birmingham as a whole, with 234,000 Muslims across its 40 council wards, had 39 convicted terrorists. That is many more than its Muslim population would suggest, and more than West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Lancashire put together, even though their combined Muslim population is about 650,000, nearly three times that of Birmingham. There are pockets of high segregation in the north of England but they are much smaller than in Birmingham.
The greatest single number of convicted terrorists, 117, comes from London, but are much more widely spread across that city than in Birmingham and their numbers are roughly proportionate to the capital's million-strong Muslim community.
Hannah Stuart, the study's author, has observed that her work has raised "difficult questions about how extremism takes root in deprived communities, many of which have high levels of segregation. Much more needs to be done to challenge extremism and promote pluralism and inclusivity on the ground."
Many observers say Birmingham has failed that test:
"It is a really strange situation," said Matt Bennett, the opposition spokesman for education on the council. "You have this closed community which is cut off from the rest of the city in lots of ways. The leadership of the council doesn't particularly wish to engage directly with Asian people — what they like to do is have a conversation with one person who they think can 'deliver' their support."
Clearly, lack of integration is, not surprisingly, the root of a growing problem. This is the central theme of Dame Louise Casey's important report of last December to the British government. Carried out under instructions of David Cameron, prime minister at the time, "The Casey Review: A review into opportunity and integration" identifies some Muslim communities (essentially those formed by Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants and their offspring) as the most resistant to integration within British society. Such communities do little or nothing to encourage their children to join in non-Muslim education, events, or activities; many of their women speak no English and play no role within wider society, and large numbers say they prefer Islamic shari'a law to British law.
Casey makes particular reference to the infamous Trojan Horse plot, uncovered in 2014, in which Muslim radicals conspired to introduce fundamentalist Salafi doctrines and practices into a range of Birmingham schools -- not just private Muslim faith schools but regular state schools (pp. 114 ff.): "a number of schools in Birmingham had been taken over to ensure they were run on strict Islamic principles..."
It is important to note that these were not 'Muslim' or 'faith' schools. [Former British counterterrorism chief] Peter Clarke, in his July 2014 report said:
"I took particular note of the fact that the schools where it is alleged that this has happened are state non-faith schools..."
He highlighted a range of inappropriate behaviour across the schools, such as irregularities in employment practices, bullying, intimidation, changes to the curriculum, inappropriate proselytizing in non-faith schools, unequal treatment and segregation. Specific examples included:
- a teachers' social media discussion called the "Park View Brotherhood", in which homophobic, extremist and sectarian views were aired at Park View Academy and others;
- teachers using anti-Western messages in assemblies, saying that White people would never have Muslim children's interests at heart;
- the introduction of Friday Prayers in non-faith state schools, and pressure on staff and students to attend. In one school, a public address system was installed to call pupils to prayer, with a member of the staff shouting at students who were in the playground, not attending prayer, and embarrassing some girls when attention was drawn to them because girls who are menstruating are not allowed to attend prayer; and
- senior staff calling students and staff who do not attend prayers 'k****r'. (Kuffar, the plural of kafir, an insulting term for "unbelievers". This affront reproduces the Salafi technique of condemning moderate or reformist Muslims as non-Muslims who may then be killed for being apostates.)
Casey then quotes Clarke's conclusion:
"There has been co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action, carried out by a number of associated individuals, to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos into a few schools in Birmingham. This has been achieved in a number of schools by gaining influence on the governing bodies, installing sympathetic headteachers or senior members of staff, appointing like-minded people to key positions, and seeking to remove head teachers they do not feel sufficiently compliant."
The situation, Casey states, although improved from 2014, remains unstable. She quotes Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, in a letter to the Secretary of State for Education, which declared as late as July 8, 2016, that the situation "remains fragile", with:
- a minority of people in the community who are still intent on destabilising these schools;
- a lack of co-ordinated support for the schools in developing good practice;
- a culture of fear in which teachers operate having gone underground but still there;
- overt intimidation from some elements within the local community;
- organised resistance to the personal, social and health education (PSHE) curriculum and the promotion of equality.
Elsewhere, Casey notes two further issues in Birmingham alone, which shed light on the city's Muslim population. Birmingham has the largest number of women who are non-proficient in English (p. 96) and the largest number of mosques (161) in the UK (p. 125).
For many years, the British government has fawned on its Muslim population; evidently the government thought that Muslims would in due course integrate, assimilate, and become fully British, as earlier immigrants had done. More than one survey, however, has shown that the younger generations are even more fundamentalist than their parents and grandparents, who came directly from Muslim countries. The younger generations were born in Britain but at a time when extremist Islam has been growing internationally, notably in countries with which British Muslim families have close connections. Not only that, but a plethora of fundamentalist preachers keep on passing through British Muslim enclaves. These preachers freely lecture in mosques and Islamic centres to youth organizations, and on college and university campuses.
Finally, it might be worth noting that Khalid Masood, a convert to Islam who killed four and injured many more during his attack outside the Houses of Parliament in March, had been living in Birmingham before he set out to wage jihad in Britain's capital.
It is time for some hard thinking about the ways in which modern British tolerance of the intolerant and its embrace of a wished-for, peace-loving multiculturalism have furthered this regression. Birmingham is probably the place to start.
Dr. Denis MacEoin is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute. He has recently completed a book on causes for concern about Islam in the UK.