Despite a few isolated incidents of thuggishness and much hot air from the online fraternity of the far-right, the aftermath of yesterday’s gruesome events in Woolwich passed off relatively peacefully.
On the whole as events unfolded most people simply looked at their television sets in shock and revulsion.
The media’s attention will now likely turn to what might have been done to prevent the atrocities. A number of questions will immediately be asked. Had the suspects already been picked up by the security services? Do they have links with foreign Jihadists? Has the UK government taken its eye off the ball when it comes to Islamic extremism?
It is important, however, to be clear on two points: the men who carried out the attacks do not represent Islam and they do not represent Muslims. Nor do the attackers have ‘legitimate grievances’ about British foreign policy.
Outside of the UK, the vast majority of those who die at the hands of terrorists are themselves Muslims. Those who see fit to carry out such brutal attacks on British service personnel are about as representative of Muslim opinion as Anders Breivik was of ‘white’ Western Europeans. Muslims should not feel pressured into collectively apologising for the horrendous acts committed by one deranged ideologue, just as the ‘white’ community isn’t obliged to grovel every time a far-right thug attacks a Mosque.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to see Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), the English Defence League (EDL) leader with a chequered history of violence and run-ins with the law, encouraging a show of aggression on the streets of Woolwich last night. It is often said that the far-right are guilty of discrimination. The truth, however, is that they are guilty of the opposite. They are cognitively incapable of discriminating between the isolated acts of an individual and the entirely separate lives of millions who simply share a religion or are part of the same ethnic group. One also suspects that in their hearts the EDL secretly long for an incident of this kind so as to puff themselves up and appear relevant to a fraternity wider than a few overweight drunks sporting football shirts.
Very little is known at this point about those who carried out the attacks. One of the suspects was caught on camera blaming British soldiers for killing Muslims, which would indicate Jihadi inspiration. The shouts of Allahu Akbar (God is Great) as the assailants carried out their crimes would appear to support this conclusion.
However blaming yesterday’s atrocities on UK foreign policy makes no more sense than does blaming them on Islam.
One of the attackers apparently called on the UK government to “bring our troops back so you can all live in peace”. Ignoring for a second the fact that bringing British troops home would contribute very little to the cause of peace in a place like Afghanistan (in fact quite the opposite for Afghani women), those words sound almost pacifistic. Delve a little deeper into Jihadist ideology, however, and historically one finds that it isn’t only troops stationed in “Muslim lands” that they have a problem with, but almost all the tenets of a modern liberal society, be that unveiled women, openly gay men and women as well as those who choose to believe in a different god or none. Like the extremists who sought to blow up the Tiger Tiger nightclub in London’s Haymarket in 2007 with the aim of slaughtering “those slags dancing around”, the grievances of yesterday’s attackers probably aren’t reserved strictly for British troops stationed overseas, but for all the freedoms that make Britain a country worth living in.
Eight years ago another group of deranged fanatics tried to declare war on London. Despite his (to me anyway) disagreeable political views, the great English writer Samuel Johnson was right to say that “by seeing London, [he had] seen as much of life as the world can show”. It was this that so disgusted the murderers of 7/7 – the sheer diversity of life in the capital, represented by everyone from the young people partying in the Haymarket to the insufficiently pious Muslims who practiced in the capital’s Mosques. It is also this same diversity that so disgusts those who will use the attacks as an excuse for opportunistically inciting bigotry and racism. Much like the terrorists they claim to despise, it is modernity in all its variety and colour that they really have a problem with.
No doubt we will soon get a more thorough idea of the process of indoctrination the killers underwent prior to them carrying out their pointless acts. Until then, don’t give the attacks a meaning they don’t deserve, and view those who wish to use the attacks to push their own abhorrent ideology with the purest contempt.