Is a London Neighborhood Breeding Jihadists? Writer Christopher Hitchens talks about his old London neighborhood, which he says has gone from a multicultural hotbed for the working class to a breeding ground for jihadism. He discusses his article, "Londonistan Calling," which appeared in Vanity Fair last month.
NPR logo

Is a London Neighborhood Breeding Jihadists?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Is a London Neighborhood Breeding Jihadists?

Is a London Neighborhood Breeding Jihadists?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


And now, the neighborhood of Finsbury Park, London, it's what one might call a melting pot, a haven of multiculturalism filled with Algerians, Greeks, Turks, even a few Irishmen. But this mosaic of people may have some cracks. Author Christopher Hitchens wrote about Finsbury Park, where he grew up, in the June issue of Vanity Fair. He's a contributing editor of that magazine. And if you want to talk with him, call 1-800-989-8255. You can also reach us by e-mail,

Christopher Hitchens joins us on - by the phone. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Thanks for asking me.

ROBERTS: So tell me about Finsbury Park as it was when you lived there.

HITCHENS: When I lived there it was a very typical North London neighborhood. Best known for - probably, to football soccer fans - as the home of the Arsenal football ground. It was sort of rundown. It had been working class with a couple of railway yards, that kind of thing. Quite a big Irish population and also from one of Britain's other European colonies, Cyprus, quite a lot of Greek and Turkish Cypriots. But despite these sort of minor ethnic and national fault lines - no violence.

ROBERTS: And what is it now?

HITCHENS: Well, now, it's like a lot of other neighborhoods - it has become settled by people from the Muslim diaspora, shall I call it that, largely from North Africa and in the case of Finsbury Park, but also quite a heavy presence of people from Pakistan. And what's happened as a result of that is - well, two things. One in Finsbury Park, a famous mosque led by a man named Hamza, now in jail for inciting terrorism and murder and racial hatred. And through that mosque passed people like Richard Reid - and through his (unintelligible) take off our shoes at the airport now. And so are other people who've been responsible for very heinous crimes.

And second - this is a related matter but it's separate though - the importing into Britain from tribal areas, really, of Pakistan, of things like arranged marriages, forced marriages, actually. Marriages often to people who are first cousins, leading to things like birth defects, honor killings, the imprisonment of women in their houses and the number of other things that are culturally very alarming.

ROBERTS: So do you think these things sort of worked together to make Finsbury Park a potential, you know, incubator of jihadists? Without the rhetoric and activity of Hamza, would the Pakistani immigration have had such an effect and vice versa?

HITCHENS: No. The answer is that the two things have to be considered separately. But that one does provide a context to the other. In other words, there've been some very upsetting findings from opinion polls of younger Muslims, particularly in Britain, who show that they not just want to impose Sharia law on the country, but in the meantime, on their own population, especially their own females. I say that advisory because I think they think of their women as in some sense their property. And their willingness to endorse the actions of murderers, of the kind that we saw fortunately aborted - were aborted last week.

ROBERTS: What did you think when you heard about those arrests?

HITCHENS: Well, I have the same since I had a few - a couple of years ago and the anniversary is coming up of the 7th of July, 7/7 as London has call it - that I knew it was coming.

ROBERTS: Really.

HITCHENS: An awful sense of not being surprised or shocked but deeply, deeply depressed of the thought that this is - this problem has been imported right into the heart of England. And that this is going to go on for a very long time and get much worse.

ROBERTS: So not surprised in a general sense because another attack is inevitable or because of the 7/7 anniversary?

HITCHENS: Because I thought another one was inevitable. Actually, I haven't particularly noticed the anniversary until the newspapers pointed it out to me.

ROBERTS: Do you think the British government has a hand in that?

HITCHENS: Has a hand in it?

ROBERTS: Well, I mean not in creating it but in the atmosphere that you have described in Finsbury Park, do you think they have a role?

HITCHENS: Oh, no. The British government - usually British authorities, as I say in my piece, generally were perfectly happy to neglect poor old Finsbury Park. And I often think we were better off when they did because it was only when the royal family, for example, took an interest, and the odious Prince Charles, who pretends to be a great friend and perhaps is of Islam, encouraged the building of this mosque in Finsbury Park with the money from his friends in the Saudi Arabian royal family. We could have done without this intervention from the crowned heads, in our little community, frankly.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Jack(ph) in Redding, California. Jack, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JACK: Yes, thank you. Hitchens, I believe, is about the only man on the face of the Earth who actually would remember the classic words of the Bishop of Antioch in 300 A.D., when he was asked about proselytizing for religions. And he said you must proselytize those that are simple and easily led. And I wondered if you might make a comment in that respect, that being a hewn cry of one of your countrymen of a defined - of emeritus Professor Antony Flew. And I'll take my answer off the air.

HITCHENS: Well, here, it might be a moment - if it wouldn't seem opportunist - to recommend my new book, which is called "God is Not Great." It's an attack on organized religion and on the incessant way in which religion can't keep itself to itself, does insist on converting and trying to spread the word to others, either by force or by fraud, as you implied, sir.

Yes, so there's a very serious danger from fundamentalist mosque, not just in England but elsewhere. That they're not content just to preach their own religion, but they insist on spreading it and they often implied that there can be no peace until everyone in the world has become converted.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Dave(ph) in Torrance, California. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

DAVE: Yes, hello. Actually, before my question, I just want to make a brief comment. Mr. Hitchens, you're writing is absolutely tremendous. I really appreciate your articles. The way you write is very - it's a real pleasure to read.

HITCHENS: Thank you.

DAVE: Question. You're welcome. My question is what do you think is the difference between the Muslim population in the area that you grew up in, the neighborhood you're that you're talking about, versus the Muslims in this country, America?

HITCHENS: I think the population of this country is different - the Muslim population - in that it's very much more diverse. There are a lot of, for example, I think, probably, the largest single group of people from a Muslim country in America is from Iran. Many of them are refugees from theocracy. And certainly wouldn't want to have any more babble of that kind while they were here, a very - especially in the state where I'm talking to you from, California - a very distinguished and educated group.

Though, of course, Iran does have a bad history with the United States, which I won't go into now. It leads me to my next point, which is the problem with the Muslim immigrants to Britain is that many of them come from former British colonies. So the whole relationship, to begin with, is a little bit distraught.

Second, of many them do come from extremely educated and advanced, sophisticated populations in East Africa - Uganda and Kenya, most notably - who were thrown out by African nationalists, partly because they were jealous of their business success. And these have done extremely well. We're all very grateful to them. They have, among other things, revolutionized British cuisine, made it a great deal more tasty than it used to be, which it needed.

ROBERTS: Yeah. Low bar.

HITCHENS: But many come from extremely backward parts of Pakistan, where, as I say, the idea of the jihad is still very much alive as is the practice of things like arranged marriages, dowries, the forcible veiling of women and so forth. So it's a related cultural, political problem. There's no analogy to that, as far as I'm aware, in the United States.

ROBERTS: Well, you know, there's not - no moderate educated Muslims in England. Do you think that?

HITCHENS: To the contrary, we've had a lot of very distinguished authors.

ROBERTS: So, do you think they can make a difference in London or in the U.K.?

HITCHENS: Oh, very much so. I mean, the warning sounds of these were given off quite a long time ago but very distinguished authors, some of them friends of mine like Hanith Kareshi(ph), for example, who some of your listeners will know and will have read - Salman Rushdie, Monica Ali, who wrote brilliant book called "Brick Lane," describing another Muslim ghetto in east London.

And a lot of people wish now that they paid more attention to these people who were from Muslim background, saying, look, take this seriously. It's going to become very nasty. (Unintelligible) - it's all for educated and usually secular Muslim voices in the United Kingdom. It's just that some of our social polities are tended to empower people who speak and claim to represent the - see, on the basis of being an imam or a Muslim (unintelligible).

ROBERTS: You outlined in Vanity Fair, say, for instance, local law enforcement going to the imam in the mosque, rather than talking to more secular members of the neighborhood.

HITCHENS: Yes, the two swifts in assumption made that those who - the preachers in the community are its voices and representatives. And what this does is very much to the annoyance of my secular friends. They've cut them out of the process by which, say, police officer's work or indeed, social service as a distributor. They tend to enthrone these people probably rather more than they deserve.

ROBERTS: The article in Vanity Fair's called "Londonistan Calling" and the title's taken from a book called "Londonistan," which criticizes multiculturalism as being destructive to British values. Do you agree with that?

HITCHENS: Well, I don't agree with Melanie Phillips' book altogether, no, as a matter of fact, but it isn't her title. The original term, Londonistan, which obviously began to stick now and circulate, comes from a French counterterrorism official who'd been monitoring extremists from French-speaking North Africa, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia in particular. And had noticed an extraordinary number of them were able to take refuge in London as if they were seeking political asylum or as if they were human rights refugees, whereas in fact, they were extremely dangerous wanted criminals in their own countries.

ROBERTS: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's hear from Joel(ph) in Jacksonville, Florida. Joel welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JOEL: Hey, how are you all doing tonight?

ROBERTS: Good. You're on the air, Joel.

JOEL: Yes. I was just wondering if, you know, we're looking at the situation as it is today, but - maybe, Mr. Hitchens, if you could explore the root causes of the anger that a lot of Muslims have towards Western nations, and if this is somewhat of a - the hen is coming home to roost, so to speak. And maybe Western (audio gap) should be paying for meddling in areas that maybe we shouldn't have been meddling in.

HITCHENS: Well, no, I've got absolutely no patience with that interpretation at all and that's why I mentioned my old neighborhood, Finsbury Park. There were lot of Irish people there and lot of Cypriots. And that every reason there might have been in are very justifiable reasons, too. To be extremely annoyed with British foreign policy as it effected their two partitioned countries.

But they would never have stooped to the idea that this entitled them to let off explosives where their neighbors lived. And you already have to look and see at what the motives of the - well, I'm fairly sure it's the motive, it hasn't been conclusively established yet - of the attempted atrocity in London last week was it was to try and kill as many young women as possible for their immodesty in going to nightclubs.

Now, what on Earth has that got to do with the sufferings of the people of Gaza, I'd like to know? Or Kashmir, if it comes to that? Or Chechnya?

It's nothing but an excuse and it's the sort of intoxicating excuse-making and euphemism that's preached by irresponsible people who want to kill, if I might add, all the Jews in England as well as all the Hindus. They're making war not just on the United Kingdom but on its largest democratic ally, and ours, too, the secular democracy of India, which was the first target of al-Qaida.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Aman(ph) in San Francisco. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION. Aman, you're on the air.

AMAN: Yes. I have a question for the gentlemen. And I think your view is kind of more, I mean, the people, I mean, you should - you are not expecting not all the Muslims or but are pretty much you are saying that Rushdie or you are talking about Monica Ali and I don't think that they are true Muslims.

I mean, I'm not a Muslim or either, I'm not radical or whatever. But the thing is what made them radical? I mean, what have done to them in far centuries and I think you go to the core of it and find out what's make them and be, you know, talk to them and be in a dialogue so they will understand that you are now their enemies.

HITCHENS: I am their enemy. I'm sorry. I have to insist upon it. People who say they want to make the United Kingdom into an Islamic theocracy by force. People who openly preach hatred and murder against the Jewish fellow citizens and our Indian Hindu fellow citizens are not my friends at all. I have nothing to talk to them about, and I don't listen to any excuses that they make for their criminal activity, and nor should you.

ROBERTS: So what's the solution then?

HITCHENS: There is no solution, unfortunately. There is no solution. We're involved in a war for civilization. The solution is to - is first to be absolutely clear that we have every right to fight it. And that we are defending is worth fighting for. And second to - as I've just tried to begun to do - begin to do, to deny any right to these people to name any grievance that they think entitles them to take other people's lives. And the third is to say that we wouldn't allow them to change our regime, but if they go on like this, we will change theirs.

ROBERTS: What do you mean by that?

HITCHENS: Well, I mean as the - some of these groups are supported by other regimes - until recently, there was one in Afghanistan, fortunately, we removed him, that's what I mean. It means the Muslim society must change, not secular society.

ROBERTS: Considering the subtitle of your new book "How Religion Poisons Every Thing..."


BRAND: it fundamentalism that you object to in all its forms?

HITCHENS: No. I mean it's often convenient people find it to be, at any rate, to say this is done in the name of religion, as if it was somehow perversion of religious teaching.

I'm very sorry to say that the course the jihad for killing of hapless states, for preachments against non-Muslims don't actually are in the Quran, a book that all Muslims believe is the unalterable and final word of God. So the problem is with the religion itself.

ROBERTS: Christopher Hitchens is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and author of the article "Londonistan Calling" in the June issue, which you can find the link to on our blog at He joined us from California. Thank you so much.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.