The trust that binds citizens of free societies together was violated last week when suspected Islamist terrorists set off a wave of bombs at the height of London's morning rush hour, killing at least 52 people and injuring 700.
The latest tragedy is the 17th bombing carried out by al-Qaeda's franchisees since the September 11 2001 attacks on the US. Its deft planning and execution indicates that al-Qaeda continues to function efficiently. For the perpetrators of London's attacks to escape the notice of the world's most formidable domestic counter-terrorism service underscores their resolve and cunning. Shopping centre bombings and attacks on global trade routes cannot be far behind.
Al-Qaeda's success in mutating from a centralised terror conglomerate into an amorphous ideology with local, home-grown cells in target countries challenges the big-power thesis of taking the war to the enemy before the enemy arrives on your shores. Most disturbingly, however, al-Qaeda's continuing success defines the central failure within moderate Islam to identify, control and stamp out its extremists. The enemy, it appears, is already among us.
This is why the London bombings represent a milestone for moderate Muslims. They can either stand up and fight Islam's radical fringes from within or sit haplessly by while the west does it for them. Verbal condemnations and choreographed press releases against violent terrorist acts, as Britain's Muslim leaders produced last Thursday, are no longer sufficient. Real action is needed – and fast.
America's Muslims failed to rise up to their citizenship responsibilities after the September 11 attacks, choosing instead to play the role of aggrieved, helpless victims. Their voices in America's body politic are now marginalised as a result. Britain's Muslims have an opportunity to set an important example by elevating the duties of citizenship above fears of looming civil rights violations.
That moderate Muslims do not take meaningful steps to irradiate al-Qaeda's cancerous metastasis in their communities is a stunning failure of leadership and lies at the heart of the increasing distrust secular societies have for all Muslims.
What to do? The action plan for moderate Muslims is uncomplicated if the political will to combat Islam's extremists from within takes hold. In Britain, three steps would be effective.
First, forbid the use of mosques and other religious institutions to discharge bigotry and hatred. As France has done already, Britain should require each imam to pass minimum competency exams. Radical preaching must be replaced with knowledge of how the Koran relates to daily life within Britain's secular traditions. Any imam failing to comply should be shown politely to the departure lounge at Heathrow airport. Those that pass must accept their citizenship responsibilities to become resources for authorities seeking data on criminal elements residing in Britain's Muslim communities.
Second, open Britain's Islamic charities to greater financial scrutiny to identify those that fund terrorism. Charities should be asked to limit foreign donations to 10 per cent of operating budgets and certify that the remainder of their donors are British citizens who give from taxable – and transparent – income sources. Stopping the flow of money is central to dismantling al-Qaeda's franchise strategy, where one or two foreign "masterminds" oversee terrorist attacks with foreign money and logistical support.
Third, form community watch groups made up of Muslim citizens to reclaim Islam from the terrorists and committed to contributing useful information to the authorities. Britain's tolerant political environment has transformed it into a haven for militant Islam. Communities joining together to compile and analyse data on Muslim fanatics for use by British authorities in official proceedings is the best way for moderate Muslims to prevent the state's anti-terror apparatus from appearing biased or being used inappropriately. It would also be the surest sign that British Muslims take their citizenship as seriously as their religion.
It is hypocritical for Muslims living in western societies to demand civil rights enshrined by the state and then excuse their inaction against terrorists hiding among them on grounds of belonging to a borderless Islamic community. It is time to stand up and be counted as model citizens before the terror consumes us all.
The writer, chief executive of Crescent Technology Ventures, in 1997 negotiated Sudan's offer of counter-terrorism assistance to the Clinton administration