I WAS phoned by a contact of mine last week. Won't mention his name. He's the director of a pressure group, prominent in the media, wellconnected and desperately scared - and I really mean scared - that racial war is breaking out in Britain.

"Apocalyptic doom-mongering, " I scoffed. Suicide bombers may kill a few people but they will not blow up our essential tolerance; racial attacks are up, but still mercifully few and far between; people aren't turning to the British National Party.

But wait: he wasn't talking about white racism; he was talking about Asian racism, British Asian racism, which he believes is the greater threat.

Hatred of white people (and black people) is, he insisted, rampant among Britain's Asian community and Islamofascism poses a serious and imminent threat to public order.

This was not a Tory MP or a member of the BNP, but a rational, wellconnected, media-friendly liberal intellectual. And he is not alone. A number of politicians are getting worried too, like the north of England left-wing Labour MP Ann Cryer who spoke out last week about the subjugation of Asian women and the growth of extremism.

Well, one Asian woman who's had quite enough subjugation is Shazia Mirza, a 29-year-old Muslim with a masters degree who grew up in a Pakistani family in Birmingham. She now makes her living as a stand-up comedian in London, and her show, Between You And Me, at the Edinburgh Festival, is unmissable for anyone who wants to understand the shocking state of race relations in Britain.

Mirza is pretty and funny, but the humour is like a glass in the face. She portrays British Muslim men as introverted, homophobic, sexist, and frankly racist. Too many of them despise Britain and liberal values. As Mirza tells it, Islamic youths are growing up with a savage animosity towards white people, who are regarded as immoral, decadent, stupid, ignorant and inferior.

She laughs at it, but she can't conceal her horror at the way her people are increasingly displaying the kind of prejudice that would be inexcusable if directed at them. Shazia's parents taught her to have nothing to do with white people because they were "dirty filthy animals". White women were all whores and prostitutes. She wasn't allowed to wear nail varnish or leave home after 4pm in case white men tried to rape her. As a result, she confesses to find it impossible to speak to a white man without thinking he wants to go to bed with her.

But she finds too many Asian men are unable to accept her independence. A Muslim lawyer - on a date, no less - remarked that Mirza would be beheaded for immorality if she lived in Pakistan.

How, she asks, could Muslims grow up in Britain, go to university, pursue professional careers and still have attitudes 500 years out of date?

But the women sound almost as bad.

Shazia describes a visit to a Muslim swimming club in Birmingham where the women were dressed in black caps, black leggings, and black costumes - in the water. She turned out in a leopardskin leotard and was barred for being dressed immorally. "Go and swim with the white women if you want to look like that, " she was told.

It's funny, as she tells it, but it is also seriously scary. If this is multiculturalism, it is the multiculturalism of the madhouse. And for exposing it, Shazia could literally die laughing.

She has been vilified in person and on the internet as a "white men's bitch" just for standing before white audiences. She's often accused of being a coconut: "brown outside but white inside". "Which side are you on, " they say, "your own people or the whites?"

Hanif Kureshi, the writer, took up this theme last week. He said British-born children of Asian immigrants are becoming seduced by a religious separatism that is intolerant of whites. "They despised their parents' moderation and desire to compromise with Britain, " he said in The Guardian, "to them this seemed weak". He warns that New Labour's plans for Muslim "faith schools" will make Asian separatism worse.

What Mirza, Kureshi and others, like Trevor Phillips of the Commission for Racial Equality, depict is a massive failure of integration. It is a self-sustaining and poisonous separatism which is making a nonsense of the race relations industry.

For a liberal left that has tended to see racism as a white man's condition, this poses serious problems. How do white people begin to talk about this without sounding racist? I can't think of any respectable newspaper editor who would accept a white journalist writing about Muslims in the way Kureshi and Mizra do. We mutter about Islamofascism now and again, but we think it is located in a cave in Afghanistan, not the Bullring in Birmingham. Nobody can really explain why this separatism has happened, either, here in Britain, after several decades of prosperity and relative racial harmony. Clearly it is something to do with alienated Muslim men, but that's not the whole story.

Muslim women are perpetuating their own oppression and many seem equally hostile to whites.

Norman Tebbit suggests in today's Sunday Herald that Enoch Powell was right to say that mass immigration was a mistake. But there has always been mass immigration. Britain is a mongrel race and we live in a multicultural and multinational United Kingdom. Look at the US, where waves of immigration - Irish, Italian, Jewish, eastern European, Asian - have strengthened not weakened it.

The trouble is that we don't really know enough about the problem of Asian separatism, or "voluntary ghettoisation" as it's sometimes called. It is cloaked behind layers of euphemism and political correctness.

But somehow this problem, whatever we call it, must be brought to the surface and examined. If it is real then it should be challenged, condemned and effaced. Trying to pretend it isn't there is no longer acceptable. Stifling debate with laws against inciting racial hatred in England will only make it worse. This is an issue beyond right or left - it raises basic questions about our willingness and determination to assert civilised values wherever they are challenged.

But dealing with it will be a much harder task than deporting bombers and proscribing organisations which preach violence and hatred of Britain.

This isn't to do with Islamic parties, terrorist organisations, militant sects or murderous mullahs. Indeed, the kind of measures announced by Tony Blair last week not only lock the door after the horse has bolted, they are likely to make the horse run even faster. Closing bookshops and mosques, banning preachers and conducting a witch hunt against anyone who "validates or justifies terrorism", whatever that means, will only confirm Muslim paranoia about Christians trying to stamp out Islam. It is an illiberal diversion.

The real threat from militant Islamic separatism is insidious precisely because it is disorganised, spontaneous, and spread like a computer virus through the minds of the impressionable. That, as we know, is the real story of the London bombings and the aftermath. It wasn't organised. There was no grand conspiracy, no ring-leaders, no supreme Islamic high command which can be killed or parlayed with. We are dealing with a supra-national movement of ideologically driven freelance militants. Ordinary young men in Leeds.

You can decommission the terrorist guns and deconstruct militant organisations, but can you decommission the minds? The security of Britain could depend on it.