Harrison points to many other factors — leaders who encourage economic liberalization, movements that restrict the power of the clerics — but the main impressions he leaves are that cultural change is measured in centuries, not decades, and that cultures are separated from one another by veils of complexity and difference.

If Harrison is right, it is no wonder that young Muslim men in Britain might decide to renounce freedom and prosperity for midair martyrdom. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

Again and again Brooks seems trapped on the other side of the “veil of difference,” literally unable to imagine a mind that does not acknowledge the meaning of what we are calling “freedom and prosperity.”  If these are things in which the airline bombers put no stock, if these are things that mean nothing to them because they find them empty and bereft of any higher purpose (which, in a world where supposedly “individuals control their own destinies,” they would almost have to be), they are not “renouncing” them when they choose to become terrorists in the cause of Islam.  You cannot renounce what you never claimed as your own.  Their alienation from a society and its values is a phenomenon in which, for example, the “freedom and prosperity” of British life never belonged to them even if they came from well-to-do, “assimilated,” middle-class families because they never accepted these things as their own.  In any case, what are “freedom and prosperity” but means to an end?  That raises the question of the purpose towards which “freedom and prosperity” are supposed to go.  Lacking any definite answer, alienated Muslims will see nothing worthwhile in these things and will not need to “renounce” them–they never really embraced them in the first place and, what is more, have less and less reason to do so the more vacuous and vague the chief values of Western liberalism seem to be. 

Supposing for a moment that their families had accepted these values, the bombers themselves might never have done so, particularly if they came to believe that Britain was not really their country but simply a place where they happened to be.  This is easy enough in a country where being from any particular country is considered by shared liberal opinion to be irrelevant to who you are, so why should the “arbitrary” fact of their living in Britain affect anyone’s loyalties?  If your country of origin is of no significance in whether you are British or not, your country of residence will also be of no significance.  If “values” are what make you British (or American, or French, etc.), there will be a great many immigrants who come to Britain who may pragmatically assimilate, join the work force, vote and all the rest of it while never really accepting those core values; at the same time there will be Britons who see no value in a “values”-based national identity and may repudiate those values simply because they represent the artificial identity that enables the transformation of their country in ways that they find appalling.   

Values must be reproduced in each generation, and there is no guarantee that they will be transferred successfully to the next generation.  If they lose or never originally acquire meaning for these people, they will wither away like crops in a drought.  The alienation of British Muslims, more acute than that of the French Muslims (remember all the Britons laughing at the French model of integration, while their own house was in even more catastrophic disorder?), derives directly from not only indulging the existence of an active multiculturalism among minority groups but from actively encouraging a sort of cultural separatism.  The idea in Britain has been, “We don’t want to force our values on you, so you can continue on much as you already are in your own cultural world.”  The response of more than a few has been to retreat into that world and accept that this separate existence is proof that their world and the British world are not the same; indeed, in the eyes of the most radical–and there are many radicals now in Britain–the two worlds are opposed and one must give way to the other. 

A New Labour mentality cannot, of course, cope with this blow to its treasured support for multiculturalism, which Britons were only recently waving in the faces of the French as the superior method of “integrating” immigrants, and cannot respond with the sort of emphasis on a single British national identity or anything remotely similar, because it simply does not believe that such a thing exists, ever existed or even should exist.  Needless to say a Britain defined according to its “values” like some proposition nation cannot assimilate people for whom these values are meaningless, especially when the culture competing for their loyalty and support has a much more clear and meaningful appeal to them that the native culture is not challenging and may no longer have the mettle to be able to challenge.