Pro-Palestinian activists march through London (HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images)


February 19, 2024   4 mins

Way back in 2005, when I was an MP in the Netherlands, my party was strategising about the upcoming local elections. I belonged to the centre-right VVD, and we were particularly concerned about appealing to the nation’s growing migrant community. After much discussion, the leaders settled on Laetitia Griffith to represent us in Amsterdam. She was black and had roots in Suriname, a former Dutch colony in the Caribbean. She could pull in the city’s Creole vote. More importantly, the VVD’s strategists thought she could win over some of the city’s Muslim population.

In the hope of making this task easier, the strategy group also issued a peculiar demand: that I keep silent on all issues to do with Islam, at least until after the election. They then went even further and asked that I publicly state that Islam is a religion of peace.

Suffice it to say that I refused. I explained why refusing to question the threat of Islamism wasn’t exactly a shrewd political tactic. Instead, I emphasised, we should be encouraging Muslim minorities to integrate and embrace Dutch values. But the party sided with Griffith, I was put on the naughty step, and we lost the election. Yet even this didn’t give the leadership pause for thought, its main takeaway being: if we wanted to win in the country’s four largest cities, we should continue to give isolationist forms of Islam a free pass. As I was told over and over by my senior colleagues, it was numerical common sense.

Over the past 18 years, we have witnessed the repercussions of such “common sense” — and not just in the Netherlands. Across the West, the fracturing force of Islamism is causing once-mighty political traditions to creak. In France, for instance, Emmanuel Macron is now doing his best to talk tough on Islam in an attempt to claw back what political authority he hasn’t spent. In the US, meanwhile, the Democrats have no such luxury: concerns are already starting to creep in that they could lose this year’s election if the pro-Palestine supporters mobilised by well-organised Islamists stay home in swing states. Already in Michigan, Rashida Talib has urged Democrats not to vote for Biden.

Even the United Kingdom, that island nation often seen as immune to radical forces, is now being forced to reckon with Islamism. In the week since the Labour Party suspended its candidate in Rochdale, much blame has been placed on a nebulous strain of antisemitism. What’s been missing, however, is an appreciation for where this prejudice so often originates: it is not just the product of an activist-decoloniser undergraduate politics, but of the party’s willingness to appease its Islamist voters.

This phenomenon, of course, extends well beyond the confines of Rochdale and one particular party. Rather, we are witnessing what Christopher Caldwell identified as “the revolution in Europe”. As far back as 2009, Caldwell observed how the mass immigration of Muslims was altering the culture of Europe. These new arrivals were, he noted, not enhancing the spirit of Europe’s cities but supplanting it. As he wrote: “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.”

For this, he (like many others) was dismissed by many as a fear-mongering xenophobe. And, taking note of his treatment, Europe’s political leaders continued to sell us false promises about multiculturalism — without realising that, in doing so, they were allowing this process of Islamisation to take root.

When observing this downward spiral, it’s fashionable to blame America; it is, after all, the nation that birthed the mantra of multiculturalism. But if America created the seeds of today’s chaos, the European climate allowed it to blossom. It is no coincidence that the European surge in Islamism came just as the continent’s dechristianisation began to take hold. This surging fanaticism was met with a spiritual vacuum — and therefore thrived.

“This surging fanaticism was met with a spiritual vacuum.”

Faced with the arrival of a new community with such a strong belief system, Europe’s political elites sought refuge in the soft bigotry of low expectations. Denying them agency, we shrouded Muslim immigrants in a rhetoric of victimhood. A set of false assumptions were developed to characterise them as a casualty of exclusion and discrimination. It became just another form of “common sense”.

After 2001, when Jihadi terrorism started to take place in Europe, and survey after survey showed that most Muslims quietly supported the belief system that justified the terrorists’ activities, European leaders doubled down on those assumptions. Rules were relaxed, standards were lowered, and excuses were made whenever their estrangement tipped over into violence.

Meanwhile, the phenomenon of data manipulation became the political norm. Academics and think-tankers lined up to produce reassuring outcomes on paper that refused to acknowledge the rising tide of Islamisation, either by ignoring it completely or downplaying the number of Muslim migrants. The establishment of Sharia tribunals was barely registered, while we were told the construction of gigantic Mosques, madrassas, and Islamic centres were led and manned by moderate Muslims. Those brave enough to still speak out — for example over grooming gangs — were silenced or expelled.

This is the backdrop to the rise of Islamist attacks in Europe and the West, but it is also the cause of today’s political crisis in Britain. Across the country — from Rochdale to Tower HamletsSalisbury to Manchester — we are starting to witness what happens when Islamism is given licence to flourish. Many were fooled into thinking that 2024 would be a “boring year” for Britain: that, after the turbulence of the Tories, the reign of Starmer would, at worst, be benignly insipid.

But this was always a fantasy. Starmer, like so many of his predecessors and counterparts in Europe, is simply focused on the short-term goal of winning the general election. And, again like so many of them, he now finds himself wrestling with a Muslim base that will require compromise if he’s to win their vote: only yesterday, he called for a “ceasefire that lasts” in Gaza, without explaining how that might come about. It is, in other words, increasingly starting to feel like 2005 redux: a replay of the VVD’s electoral conundrum, and an allegedly “common-sense” response that inevitably backfires.

It’s hard not to conclude that this is the “new Britain” promised by its next Prime Minister, where scenes like those we have witnessed in Rochdale become repeated over and over again. This is, after all, what happens when a nation’s foundational principles are eroded — and when, faced with a moral and political vacuum, Islamism is the only potent force in town.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an UnHerd columnist. She is also a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Founder of the AHA Foundation, and host of The Ayaan Hirsi Ali Podcast. Her new book is Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights.

Ayaan