Stiffen the Brits

Last month I attended a conference in London, convened by the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) under the title “Is Islam a Threat to the West?” On my return, I wrote this: “The good news, in case you’re worried about losing the clash of civilizations, is that the assembled experts answered the question with a resounding ‘no!’ The bad news is that there still exists a dire threat to the West. It’s posed by America.”

If what I heard at that conference is any guide, the perpetrators of yesterday’s attacks may well score a victory. The blame-America mood runs deeper at Chatham House than it does in the general public. But it infects many elite British analysts, who already sound like the Middle Eastern studies guild in America after 9/11. And while this kind of analysis never got traction in America, it might in Britain. In my forays to London over the years, I haven’t encountered too many stiff upper lips, at least in the circles I move in. The British once looked upon themselves as modern Romans. The ones I meet remind me of Venetians, ever-ready to cut some sort of deal with the dark forces.

Fortunately, I don’t move in all circles, so there’s a chance that 7/7 won’t have the effect intended by its masterminds. But a mighty intellectual battle is at hand, and America mustn’t take Britain for granted. Recently I read Michael Ignatieff’s biography of Isaiah Berlin, with its vivid account of how the Riga-born Jewish philosopher and Oxford don went off to New York and Washington, charmed the elites, and helped to bring the United States into Britain’s war. (Well, it still took Pearl Harbor.) Where is America’s Isaiah Berlin, sent off to London to stiffen British resolve? America has taken away Bernard Lewis, Christopher Hitchens, and Niall Ferguson. It should put something back.