By Ed Husain
Jun 27, 2018
I’ve lived in the Middle East and the US but I keep coming back to live in London. The global success of this city in a small island nation is not an accident but the outcome of history, big ideas and a people willing to change. There is a dynamic at play in London that is desperately needed elsewhere.
I regularly travel to the Muslim world. There, a fire rages across borders, a lack of freedom for many, a commitment by Islamist activists to remove Muslim governments, fanned by a craze for a caliphate. A loss of confidence and a rise in anger against the West feeds terrorism and destruction. Only last month Iran’s oppressive government again threatened to destroy Israel. This cycle of hate must end.
For hundreds of years the Tower of London was a site of beheadings and the killing of those who disagreed with the king or queen. No more. In 1605 a small group of Catholic terrorists wished to blow up Parliament in London. We remember this with fireworks on Guy Fawkes night every year on November 5. The old Catholic-Protestant loathing has been overcome. When he demanded higher taxes and absolute control, King Charles I was executed in London in 1649.
This city has lived through similar challenges now besetting the Muslim world. Over a period of time Londoners and Brits actively decided to change. The big ideas of political pragmatism, religious pluralism and economic prosperity were tried and tested here. The rule of law became more important than the rule of the religious or secret police.
By the 1720s Voltaire — in exile in London — wrote of London’s stock exchange as “that place more venerable than many a court, and you will see representatives of all the nations assembled there for the profit of mankind. There the Jew, the Muslim and the Christian deal with one another as if they were of the same religion, and reserve the name of infidel for those who go bankrupt.”
Great men such as John Stuart Mill campaigned for women’s equality in the 1860s. The suffragettes secured their freedoms here: in Holloway prison their determination was tested and in east London tearooms they plotted. Without liberty and full equality for women, no society is truly free. Women driving in Saudi Arabia this week should be the beginning of more change.
Today, more than 600,000 Muslims live in London. Every Muslim country wishes to invest in the capital and send its youth to our schools and universities. Here, gay or straight, man or woman, atheist or believer, all have recourse to the law as equals. Our Arab friends will be tourists here this summer and strengthen our economy. Muslim governments admire the survival of our monarchy. That spirit of reform is the lesson from London for our Muslim allies to bring stability and prosperity.