There has, understandably, been copious commentary published since the horrific event of last Wednesday in which Drummer Lee Rigby was murdered on the streets of Woolwich in broad daylight and in full view of passersby.
Video footage from the scene shows the two alleged assailants, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, brandishing knives and a meat cleaver in their bloodied hands and saying "We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
"I killed him because he kills Muslims over there and I am fed up that people kill Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The statements of Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, were quick to distance the attackers and their suspected motives from Islam and British Muslims. So, Johnson, in a statement said, "It is completely wrong to blame this killing on the religion of Islam.”
“The fault lies with the warped mindset of those who did it and for the sake of the victim and his family the killers need to be brought to justice."
While the PM referred to the actions of Adebolajo and Adebowale as “a betrayal of Islam – and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country.”
“There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act,” he added.
Queue the usual suspects and their efforts to put Islam and Muslims full square in the frame in explaining the actions of these two men.
Melanie Phillips in a column in the Daily Mail on Friday castigated the PM and Mayor of London for making the ‘absurd’ claim that Islam had nothing to do with it. In Mel P’s eyes, Government officials refuse to “admit that this is a religious war”.
It is a war, she claims, that “arises from an interpretation of Islam which takes the words of the Koran literally as a command to kill unbelievers in a jihad, or holy war, in order to impose strict Islamic tenets on the rest of the world.”
To refer to the abuse of religious scripture to justify cold-bloodied murder as an ‘interpretation of jihad’ is to play into the hands of terrorists who would claim that such a justification can indeed be made by reference to Qur’anic verses. And in referring to this as a ‘religious war’, despite caveats about the vast majority of Muslims being peace-loving and law abiding carefully inserted, the end result is the same – of pitting us (Britons) against them (Muslims).
Mel P confuses agency with scripture and makes the mistake of absolving criminals and terrorists from having to explain their actions in more mundane terms – anger at foreign policy. There is nothing spiritual or sublime about their motives.
Peter McKay in his column in the Daily Mail refers to the ‘kid-glove’ treatment he perceives among our politicians saying, “[They] are happy railing against the English Defence League — invariably described as ‘thugs’ — but anxious to avoid giving offence to militant Muslim groups and individuals.
“They say ‘ugly’ local opposition to the Islamisation of UK towns and cities — including criticism of mosque building — must never be tolerated. Yet even members of our Royal Family have to genuflect to rulers of Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, which actually forbid Christian places of worship.”
He concludes that “Our only hope is that new generations of Muslims will come to treasure the freedoms they enjoy here, if not elsewhere, and rise against those who defile them with violence and hate propaganda.”
Strange that McKay at once speaks of the ‘Islamisation of UK towns and cities’ and then of the ‘freedoms Muslims enjoy here’. Do such freedoms not extend then to the building of mosques in UK towns and cities?
Max Hastings, former editor of the Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard, wrote in a column in Friday’s paper of “Tens of thousands of Islamists living in Britain not merely reject our society and its values, but even dare to despise them, supposing their own violent and intolerant creed superior. British Christians do not seek confrontation with Islam — yet some of its adherents are bent on confrontation with us.”
Is Islam the only religion to have ‘violent and intolerant’ episodes in its history? And how ironic that Mel P should argue in the DM that to absolve Islam of responsibility is the same as arguing that the Catholic Church had nothing to do with the Spanish Inquisition, while Hastings, in the same paper, glosses over ‘violent and intolerant’ episodes in Christian history to speak of Islam as a ‘violent and intolerant creed’. Instances such as these seem to bring out ‘holier than thou’ sentiments among some of the adherents of other religions. How satisfying then to see the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, welcome the unity of Muslim leaders in condemning unequivocally the actions of the Woolwich murderers.
Douglas Murray in the Daily Mail on Friday wrote of the need to “first identify those who are likely to espouse the radical form of Islam known as ‘Islamism’” if we are to fight ‘lone wolf’ attacks in the future.
Murray goes on to contend that ‘Islamism’ is indulged by certain mainstream organizations who are not unequivocal in their rejection of violence.
“For instance, there are preachers who will condemn the killing of a British soldier at home in London — but who have for years equivocated or actually urged people to attack our troops abroad”, he writes. There are no details offered of ‘preachers’ who urge Muslims to target troops abroad. Indeed if there were, such preachers could well expect to fall foul of legislation on ‘glorifying terrorism’ or ‘incitement to violence’.
It would seem Murray makes the same costly mistake as once made by Charles Moore on BBC Newsnight. Moore libeled the Muslim Council of Britain with just such allegations, of their encouraging attacks on British troops abroad. The BBC was forced to apologise to the MCB and cough up £45,000 in costs and damages – a headline which made the front page of the Daily Mail no less.
Of the determination to cast discussion of foreign policy beyond the pale, Mayor Johnson while distancing the men from Islam and Muslims, went on to say, “…it also equally wrong to try to draw any link between this murder and British foreign policy or the actions of British forces who are risking their lives abroad for the sake of freedom."
The videoed message of Adebolajo puts paid to any attempt to push foreign policy motives out of the window. What else are we to make of his claim, "I killed him because he kills Muslims over there and I am fed up that people kill Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The argument on the centrality of British foreign policy and ‘blowback’ was picked up in an eloquent article by former soldier and conscientious objector, Joe Glenton, in The Guardian on Friday.
Glenton wrote that “while nothing can justify the savage killing in Woolwich yesterday of a man since confirmed to have been a serving British soldier, it should not be hard to explain why the murder happened.
“For 12 years British Muslims have been set upon, pilloried and alienated by successive governments and by the media for things that they did not do. We must say clearly that the alleged actions of these two men are theirs alone, regardless of being informed by the wars, and we should not descend into yet another round of collective responsibility peddling.
“[I]f there is collective responsibility for the killings, it belongs to the hawks whose policies have caused bloodbaths – directly, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, and indirectly in places as far apart as Woolwich and Boston, which in turn have created political space for the far right to peddle their hatred, as we saw in the immediate aftermath of the Woolwich attack.”
And in the Huffington Post today, Annie Machon, a former MI5 officer, argues much the same.
“Unless our governments acknowledge the problems inherent in continued and violent western interventionism, unless they can accept that the war on terror results in radicalisation, 'blowback' and yet more innocent deaths, and until they admit that negotiation is the only viable long-term solution, we are all condemned to remain trapped in this ghastly cycle of violence”, she states.
The expectations of British Muslims for rooting out the ‘enemy within’ is the subject of various other comment pieces. Ali Miraj in the Independent on Friday writes of the need for Muslims to ‘rise to the challenge’ and tackle the extremists ‘head-on with intellectual argument’.
Paul Routledge in the Daily Mirror states: “I think the Muslim community has to do more – much more – to identify and inform the authorities of those in their midst who are showing clear signs of falling under the jihadist spell.”
An editorial in the Evening Standard on Friday argued “In the end, the Muslim community has a responsibility to be alert to the signs of radicalisation of such young men.”
There has certainly been widespread coverage in local and national media of the statements of Muslim organizations the length and breadth of the country which have condemned the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. What has sparked some controversy has been the indulgence by the BBC and Channel 4 of Anjem Choudary with the Al-Muhajiroun leader appearing on BBC Newsnight and Channel 4 News last week.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Home Secretary, Theresa May, have both railed against the irresponsibility of broadcasters in giving Choudary a platform to air his noxious views. But then, Baroness Warsi once shared the BBC Newsnight platform with BNP leader Nick Griffin, on the basis that his arguments needed to be heard publicly so they could be publicly refuted.
The argument has wider significance with claims circulating of the measures being entertained by Government to tackle the problem of radicalization. Getting tough with universities on their giving ‘hate preachers’ a platform and curtailing the online circulation of ‘extremist material’ are just some of the measures being proposed by the Home Secretary. Reviving the Communications Data Bill, the so-called ‘Snoopers Charter’ is another such measure.
But as editorials in the Independent and Guardian have espoused, reactions that result in repressive policies will leave us all worse off. And measures that demonise Muslims, as Omar Ali, president of FOSIS, argues in a piece on Huffington Post, will diminish the strength of our most potent ally – British Muslims.