The word is a portmanteau of the UK's capital and the Persian suffix -stan, meaning "land" used by several countries in South and Central Asia. The term has been used in a number of publications, including The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The Weekly Standard, and in the 2006 book Londonistan: How Britain is Creating a Terror State Within.
Origin of the term
According to Omar Nasiri:
The mid- to late 1990s were the years when Britain's capital earned the sobriquet of "Londonistan," a title provided by French officials infuriated at the growing presence of Islamist radicals in London and the failure of British authorities to do anything about it. [...] Raids in France and Belgium had produced phone and fax numbers linked to the United Kingdom, and names of suspects were passed on. Some French officials believe that if more had been done by Britain at the time, the network behind the summer of 1995 bombings might have been broken up and the attacks prevented.
The bombings and attempted bombings, mostly in the French capital of Paris, in the summer and autumn of 1995 by Armed Islamic Group (GIA), killed eight people and injured more than 100. The French observed that a number of Muslim radicals from London had connections to these bombings. Around 1995, the French intelligence had coined the term "Londonistan" for the city of London.
The perception of "Londonistan" is powered by the strong foothold of Islamic radical fundamentalism in the region. It is believed that the "Londonistan" environment radicalises British Muslim youth (involving the strife in identity politics, such as the perception of racism and decadence in British culture) and is ineffective in combating the Islamic radical entities.
According to critics, the UK's "deep tradition of civil liberties and protection of political activists" led to the country becoming "a crossroads for would-be terrorists" for a decade after the mid-1990s. The Islamists used London "as a home base" to "raise money, recruit members and draw inspiration from the militant messages." The UK Government's perceived unwillingness to prosecute or extradite terrorist suspects provoked tensions with countries in which terrorist attacks occurred. Allegations of a British policy of appeasement of Islamists were made and denied by members of the British Government who debated the issue.
Late 1980s onwards
Foreign governments were particularly angered when the head of Al-Muhajiroun, Omar Bakri Muhammad, claimed he lived in the UK under a "covenant of security", whereby he was left alone by the authorities so long as he did not sanction attacks on British soil. The British government denied the claim. Some suspects of the 1995 attacks on Paris have fled to the United Kingdom; Rachid Ramda was eventually put into French custody on the 1 December 2005, after ten years of permanent request by French judges. Following the 7 July 2005 London bombings, articles in The New York Times and Le Figaro claimed that London had become something of a safe haven for terrorists.
In March 2020 Jonathan Evans, Former Director General, MI5 gave an interview and commented on Londonistan: 'There are various conspiracy theories about the Londonistan period including the notion that Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) in some way gave a free pass to the terrorist sympathizers in the U.K. on the basis that they would not attack us. This is a complete fabrication. The problem was that we didn’t actually know what was going on because we were not looking. There was all sorts of stuff going on that we just were not aware of. It was not that we were deliberately turning a blind eye, just that we had not noticed'.
Following 11 September 2001
The activities of London-based Islamists came under greater scrutiny after the September 11 attacks, which brought home the vulnerability of Western countries to large-scale terror attacks. The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 allowed foreign terrorist suspects to be detained indefinitely without charge. In 2004, the Law Lords ruled that this violated European law, but it was replaced by the system of control orders in the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which provided the Government with powers to place various restrictions on suspected terrorists. The 2005 Act was subsequently replaced by the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011. Other ones, such as Ali Salman, returned to their home countries after domestic political reforms.
With the election of Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London, Richard Seymour wrote an essay in Al Jazeera headlined "Sadiq Khan's victory and free Londonistan", claiming that the term Londonistan was being "joyfully, ironically appropriated by those who are glad to see a racist campaign defeated. Welcome to the 21st century. Welcome to free Londonistan."
- Caldwell, Christopher (25 June 2006), After Londonistan, The New York Times, retrieved 12 December 2009
- Hitchens, Christopher (June 2007), Londonistan Calling, Vanity Fair, retrieved 12 December 2009
- Stelzer, Irwin M. (1 August 2005). "Letter from Londonistan". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved 12 December 2009.
- Phillips, Melanie (2007), Londonistan: How Britain is Creating a Terror State Within, Gibson Square, ISBN 978-1-903933-90-9
- Nasiri, Omar (20 November 2006), Inside the jihad: my life with Al Qaeda : a spy's story, Basic Books, p. 16, ISBN 978-0-465-02388-2
- Barling, Kurt (8 September 2005), What's the risk to London?, BBC London, archived from the original on 11 July 2011
- Robertson, Nic; Cruickshank, Paul (23 July 2012). "Cagefighter 'cures' terrorists". CNN.
- Miks, Jason (1 June 2013). "Memorable moments: 5 years of GPS". CNN.
- Leiken, Robert (6 January 2010). "London breeding Islamic terrorists". CNN.
- Sciolino, Elaine; Don Van Natta Jr (10 July 2005), For a Decade, London Thrived as a Busy Crossroads of Terror, New York Times, retrieved 12 December 2009
- "For a Decade, London Thrived as a Busy Crossroads of Terror". The New York Times. 10 July 2005.
- Fielding, Nick (24 July 2005), Terror links of the Tottenham Ayatollah, London: The Times, retrieved 12 December 2009
- Les limites du cynisme britannique (the limits of British cynicism) (in French), Le Figaro, 18 July 2005, archived from the original on 10 July 2015
- Seymour, Richard (8 May 2016). "Sadiq Khan's victory and free Londonistan". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
- Sean O'Neill Why France lived in fear of 'Londonistan', Daily Telegraph (13 Oct 2001)
- London Review of Books’ In the Streets of Londonistan (22 Jan 2004)
- New Statesman’s Why the French call us Londonistan (9 Dec 2002)
- Jamestown Foundation: Stephen Ulph on Londonistan (26 Feb 2004)
- Combating Terrorism Center: The Changing Scene in Londonistan (3 Feb 2010)