WASHINGTON -- The stories out of London the last week of January have been little covered in the Western press. The appearance of the strange "militia" that has suddenly sprung up there, taking over some of the city's streets without so much as a "by your leave" to the regular police force, was barely covered in the British press either. It remained for the "irregular" media of the bloggers and YouTubers to report on this new, "irregular" police force.
In short, what happened is this:
Over several weekend days, Londoners awoke to find that some members of the Islamic community, people who had been allowed to emigrate from the Middle Eastern upheavals and live in one of the greatest cities on Earth, had formed a "Muslim Patrol" that was walking London's streets calling Western women "naked animals with no self-respect," taking "evil" alcohol from Saturday night revelers and tearing down poster ads for bras that they considered "vile and disgusting."
When English Londoners challenged their right to police London on behalf of Islam, one member of the gang of Big Brothers retorted, "We don't care if you are appalled at all," because they themselves were only "vigilantes implementing Islam upon your own necks."
Near the Waltham Forest area of the city, the Muslims were shouting, "This is a Muslim area," toward white Britons, a phrase heard also in other parts of the city. In one of their videos later posted on YouTube, they say, "The Muslims have taken it upon themselves to command the good and forbid the evil and cover up these naked people." And still others show them pouring gasoline over a bra advertisement and setting it on fire.
Now, the first thing one must say is that the group is very small, maybe eight to 10 men, according to the pictures and videos of them. They are not the leaders or the most popular members of their actual communities. Indeed, as these events were breaking in London, Mohammed Shafiq, the chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, strongly responded against their behavior.
"We live in the U.K. and we are governed by U.K. law," he was quoted as saying. "There should be no mob rule. If people are involved in this behavior, then it is worrying, but it is an isolated incident." (The foundation is a Muslim organization that campaigns for peaceful coexistence between communities, as do a number of others.)
In the always well-informed Financial Times, Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution Doha Center, a prominent think-tank, said that Islamists have a different concept of democracy, one that makes it difficult to reach a consensus. Liberals believe in rights and freedoms "that are, by definition, non-negotiable."
As to the Middle East, and particularly to Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood's President Mohamed Morsi is fighting the liberals: "We are seeing the entrenchment of Islamist-liberal cleavage in the Arab world. This has become the fundamental divide in Arab politics and will be the case for the foreseeable future."
Long before the Muslim Patrol in London, there have been problems with Britain's large Muslim population: honor killings of girls by their fathers or brothers, family links bringing so many from "back home" that whole areas of English cities look like, say, Pakistan or Jamaica, even the fueling of terrorist acts like blowing up the London underground.
But does the chutzpah of the patrols -- or any of the other often outrageous acts of many Muslims toward a country that one might expect they should show respect for -- really threaten the security, sanity or self-respect of Great Britain? More and more, analysts and politicians, not to speak of neighborhood spokesmen, think so.
At this moment, there are about 20 million Muslims on the continent of Europe. There are 2 million in Britain, with Pakistanis and Bengalis predominating. A million Muslims now live in London, where they constitute up to an eighth of the population.
This mass emigration from poor lands of origin to the developed and industrialized (and largely Christian) worlds of Europe and the West, seemed to come almost accidentally. England dissolved its empire without really systematizing emigration from former colonies, and former colonial subjects became citizens of the Metropole. Brits explained away their unhappy situation in terms of "multiculturalism," which saw people from all over living together creatively and without friction.
This multiculturalism is unpopular, the noted American author Christopher Caldwell wrote in his "Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West." He finds: "In no country in Europe does the bulk of the population aspire to live in a bazaar of world cultures. Yet all European countries are coming to the wrenching realization that they have somehow, without anyone's actively choosing it, turned into such bazaars."
So when one sees Muslim immigrants to Great Britain trying to impose their culture on the English homeland, one has to wonder: "Are they assimilating?" And the answer to that has to be "No."