Several details about the eight young men arrested in raids across the home counties this week stir much thought. They are all British born. They do not live in areas of high deprivation, but in places like Crawley, Ilford and Slough. Some have young families. None of them fits the conventional profile of Islamist terrorists as alienated, isolated immigrants. If this is suburban Islamism, it poses difficult questions about Britain’s record in integrating the Muslim community and in fostering a secure, strong sense of a British Islamic identity. There are many in the Muslim community whose warnings, through the early 1990s, of a radicalised generation fell on deaf ears. They would argue that Britain has not so much failed to integrate Muslims, as failed even to try. As they saw the traditional authority structures of their community undermined in the urban west, they saw the dangers of a disorientated youth, vulnerable both to drugs and Islamism. Organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain at the interface of state and Islam struggled to establish and maintain their credibility with both. The state’s apparatus of multi-culturalism, with its emphasis on ethnicity rather than religious identity, served Muslim needs ill, they claimed. They would point to a catalogue of neglect towards the Muslim community, evident in high unemployment and high educational underachievement, particularly among Pakistani and Bangladeshi males. They argue that the response to setting up Muslim schools was too slow, and that boys’ vital religious instruction in mosques on Saturdays has remained in the cultural clutches of religious authorities back in Pakistan or Bangladesh. The resources were inadequate to promote a vibrant Islam of which these British youngsters could be proud. The crucial ingredient which radicalises this kind of community disaffection into some individuals undertaking acts of extreme violence is the international context. It began with the slow international response in Bosnia, but now spans the globe from Chechnya and Palestine to France where the sisters cannot wear the hijab. The perception everywhere is that the proud, expansionary faith of Islam is under attack. That makes a faith in which the ummah (international community of believers) is central and, when combined with modern mass communications, quite literally explosive. Worryingly, this international context – in particular the war on Iraq – is now sapping the will of the British Muslim community to integrate, as a recent Guardian-ICM poll found. Britain faces a pressing task of mapping an effective strategy of engagement with Islam, one that spans both the global and local contexts. It is about when and why we embark on wars with Muslim nations; but it is also about the kinds of schools and estates which are built and the methods used by police against Muslims. This may take the British state into new territory – funding the training of imams, supporting mosques which run Arabic and scripture classes – and it is vital to listen to those who have been closest to the development of the Islamist threat over the last two decades. This includes a fundamental re-examination of our understanding of integration that does not simply entail minorities conforming to a British prescription; it challenges secular liberalism to offer more than polite distaste. It is helpful, given the current sense of fear, to bear in mind a useful precedent. In 1795, in the midst of war with France, Britain began to fund the Catholic Maynooth seminary in Ireland to stop students going to France to be trained. The example may seem arcane, but at the time it was contrary to all the principles of a protestant state. National emergency dictated that piece of British pragmatism – and it may do so again.