Hilaire Belloc’s 1929 book Survivals and New Arrivals begins with the proud assertion: “Europe is the faith and the faith is Europe.”

Belloc, who was born in France and became a British subject in 1902, was describing Christianity, in particular his own religion of Catholicism.

What Belloc wrote nine decades ago was broadly correct — except that he overlooked the contribution of Jews and Judaism to European civilisation over the centuries. However, Belloc’s analysis would not be repeated today by any rational commentator. Christianity is on the decline in Europe and North America but not in Africa, South America or Asia. Over recent decades, western Europe in particular has become primarily a secular society in which the various tenets of Christianity are under constant attack from born-again atheists, many of whom were brought up Christians.

Agnostics acknowledge that we really do not understand the human condition. Atheists, on the other hand, tend to embrace an unequivocal conviction that dismisses all forms of religious belief as irrational at best and dangerous at worst. Contemporary Western atheists rarely criticise Islam. Rather, they prefer the soft targets of Christians and especially ­Catholics. Believers in the West have learned to tolerate the sneering secularists. However, after the events of this week, it is clear that Christianity is likely to be targeted physically from a different enemy.

The murder of Father Jacques Hamel while saying mass in a church in Normandy on Tuesday morning (French time) sends out an unequivocal message that militant Islamists are now intent on attacking Christians in the West. According to reports, the 85-year-old Catholic priest had his throat cut by 19-year-old Adel Kermiche and his accomplice, both of whom shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great).

Kermiche, who tried unsuccessfully to travel to Syria, had been required by French authorities to wear electronic monitoring equipment. Not surprisingly, a tracking device is not capable of predicting that a young man will leave a street and enter a church in Saint Etienne-du-Rouvray intent on murder. In recent years there have been many attacks on Christians by jihadists in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia. This now has extended to nations such as France.

The attacks by Islamists on specific French targets suggest a pattern of behaviour. In March 2012, a French rabbi and three Jewish children were murdered in Toulouse. In January last year, jihadists hit at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The following month, a Jewish community in Nice was targeted. In November last year, the victims were young men and women during a rock concert at the Bataclan. And now a priest saying mass to a small community of Catholics.

And then there has been the targeting of military and security forces in addition to the murders in Nice. Clearly, jihadists regard themselves at war with both state and church in the West.

The security of Western democracies turns on the viability of a strong military, police and security forces. The essence of such societies entails the right of free speech and the practice of religious beliefs. In France right now, both are being targeted by Islamists. The evidence suggests that, for whatever reason, multiculturalism — as proclaimed by Western governments for close to a half-century — has not worked. Certainly many Muslims have embraced Western culture. But clearly some have not.

It is estimated about 10 per cent of the French population is Muslim. In Britain, the figure is more like 5 per cent. Like France, Britain has had its jihadist violence in recent years. Unlike France, we appear to know more about what British Muslims believe.

In April, Channel 4 in Britain ran the documentary What British Muslims Really Think. The program was based on a face-to-face survey conducted by ICM Limited. Trevor Phillips, who was born in London but grew up in Guyana, was asked to interpret the findings. He wrote up his analysis in Britain’s The Sunday Times on April 10.

Phillips reported some good news. About 80 per cent of Muslims say they are happy to live in Britain and feel British. One of the main attractions is that British Muslims — Sunni, Shia and more besides — are free to practise their religion as they see fit, unlike many Muslims who live in the Middle East, Africa or Asia, where they face persecution from other Muslims.

However, Phillips, a former chairman of the British Equality and Human Rights Commission, whose 1996 Runnymede report introduced the term Islamophobia into modern British parlance, has also warned of Muslims becoming “a nation within a nation” in Britain.

The ICM survey revealed what Phillips has interpreted as a “deeply ingrained sexism that runs through Britain’s Muslim communities”. Forty per cent of Muslims, men and women, believe a wife should always obey her husband and 33 per cent advocate the existence of polygamy under sharia law. More than 50 per cent of the British Muslims believe homosexuality should be illegal. And only 66 per cent unequivocally condemn stoning for adulterers.

Certainly, liberal Muslims in Britain and elsewhere do not hold such views. But as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown told Phillips, “we (liberal) Muslims are a dying breed”. Many British Muslims simply do not like the secular, libertarian society that is contemporary Britain, although they are happy to live there.

Nearly all of the Muslims living in the West, or their parents or grandparents, are immigrants who chose to live in Western societies.

Yet there is a reluctance among a significant section to accept the mores of the West while a very small minority regard themselves at war with their adopted nation and are intent on establishing a caliphate in its place. The Islamist murderers want to overturn Belloc’s belief and bring about a situation, by force, where the faith of Europe is radical Islam. It is not a manifestation of Islamophobia to discuss such matters.