Woolwich murder: With universal condemnation comes the need for wise action

The former leader of the Muslim Council of Britain calls for a wise, evidence-based and inclusive strategy to tackle the causes of Islamic terrorism

Share

The horrendous murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, a soldier of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, has put Britain’s near-three million Muslims in the dock again.

That the murder happened in broad daylight in a peaceful suburban road in Woolwich, south East London, was shocking enough. That the murderers wanted it captured on camera (in a video released on international media) was worse. These men were sick, cowardly and their actions beyond disgraceful. We took some small comfort from the bravery of a mum who confronted the attackers and risked all by asking them to hand over their weapons.

Unfortunately, since Wednesday last week there was a massive spike in Islamophobic abuse. According to the anti-Muslim hate crime project, Tell MAMA, 83 new incidents of threats or violence reported by Muslims to its helpline in the first 24 hours after the murder; in total more than 170 incidents and 9 mosque attacks have been reported since Wednesday.

Ever since the 9/11 atrocities Muslims and their religion are seen through the prism of suspicion, but the Prime Minister’s statesman-like comment: “There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act,” gave a clear message to the British public not to point fingers to any one community or religion. London Mayor Boris Johnson spoke in the same language and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg held a meeting with community leaders to find better ways of working together.

British Muslims, haunted by the spectre of the 2005 7/7 London bombings, unequivocally condemned the gruesome murder. Hundreds of prominent imams came up with an unambiguous public condemnation and Britain’s largest Muslim umbrella body, the Muslim Council of Britain, issued a statement describing the killing as "a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and we condemn this unreservedly".

What motivated the killers to carry out this shocking act? Were they deranged, online fantasists, hyper-radicalised, over-politicised; or were they inspired by the ‘evil ideology of ‘Islamism’, as some vocal Islamophobes want us to believe? This needs deeper research and proper remedy. It is now clear that they were within the MI5 radar and were known to be radicalised by now-banned Al-Muhajiroun group run by Anjem Choudary, and created by Omar Bakri Mohammed; one of the killers was even offered a job by MI5! Worries will be expressed about MI5’s role in dealing with Muslim extremists and also how these extremists slipped through their net.

The Government is now setting up a taskforce to ‘look again’ at its strategy for dealing with extremism and radicalisation in the wake of this murder. In doing so, we hope wisdom prevails and a balancing act between freedom of expression and our security is preserved. We need evidence-based strategies to ensure such violence does not occur again. We must be vigilant to ensure we do not inadvertently fall into the trap of violent extremists, making our society less free, divided and suspicious of each other.

As citizens, we need tough conversation within our communities – and beyond – about the causes of extremism and the role of religious and educational institutions, as well as prisons, online and social media. Our actions thereon have to be knowledge-based and nuanced and with better understanding of our diverse cultural or religious expressions. A muddled, lazy and pre-conceived discussion about what constitutes ‘extremism’ versus, say, social conservatism, political disagreement or peaceful protests, will not assist in our end goal of preventing future attacks. The language, terminology and jargon have to be well-defined so that extremists from any quarter do not feel inflated with their criminal acts and ordinary people are not misinformed.

For our common good we need to be seen as treating all communities equally. Sadly in recent times we have seen terrorism carried out by a Muslim to be ‘Islamicised’, bringing distress and fear to a whole community, whereas if done by a non-Muslim it is seen as an individual aberration. This goes against the teaching of all Abrahamic faiths, which say: ‘No soul should bear the burden for another’. It is also contrary to basic justice. Why should all Muslims as a block pay for the actions of a few bad apples?

A creative space is needed for us to discuss all the serious issues that our young people, particularly young Muslims, face. Treating a whole community with suspicion, and its young people only through the prism of security, may satisfy a small section of politicians and pundits but is an unrealistic route to solve problems. We need an ‘out-of-box’ imaginative and bold national and local leadership, including from within the Muslim community. We also need non-judgmental contributions from the mainstream political and media class, and from academic and policy-making institutions. There is no shortcut to achieving our goal of protecting life and keeping ourselves safe.

It is vital to forge a genuine partnership with those in mosques and other organisations who have already shown an extraordinary unity and zeal to fight the menace of extremism. In order to do this we need to look into the effectiveness of the current Prevent policy. Prevent under the Labour government failed because it conflated security with community cohesion. The Coalition’s Prevent agenda was based on the presumption of a ‘conveyor belt theory’, assuming that individuals start off angry and disaffected, then become more religious and politicised. Finally they turn to terror. There is hardly any evidence to prove this theory. Its ineffectiveness lies with the fact that mainstream Muslim groups were seen as ‘non-violent extremists’ by people in power. There was no buy-in from the Muslim community. Far more important, so many academics now believe, is the power of ‘self-radicalisation’ (particularly via the Internet and common to most ‘lone wolf’ scenarios).

Secondly, it is important for all of us to be careful with language, terminology and rhetoric in describing various Muslim groups and individual actions. Insensitive use of some core Islamic words taken from Arabic, such as ‘Jihadists’ and ‘Islamists’, displays huge ignorance of Muslim culture and vocabulary. Most Muslims do feel really hurt when they see indiscriminate and distorted use of a venerable word ‘Jihad’ (that means ‘utmost effort’). In the same vein, although some try to differentiate between the words Islam (‘willful submission to God’) and Islamism, many Muslims see this as an extension of a Cold War vocabulary, badly used in place of Communism; Islamism can mean different things to different people.

Thirdly, the role of media cannot be underestimated in aggravating this situation. Our fourth estate has often miserably failed when it comes to Muslims and Islam. Even our national pride, the BBC, often proves insensitive in covering Muslim issues. The recent example is their decision to give airtime to the Muslim community’s most hated person, Anjem Choudary, in its flagship Newsnight programme, angering many.

In a world torn by division, sanity and wisdom is needed. Three years ago this month, President Obama declared the ‘War on Terror’ was over. It is a poignant reminder that we find better ways of dealing with insecurity and terror in our midst.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Tax Manager / Accountant

£35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Operative

£6 - £15 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a well e...

Recruitment Genius: Data Scientist

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Full Stack Software Developer - Javascript

£18000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

A promised 'women's museum' opens as a Jack the Ripper exhibit tonight, and I won't take it lying down

Becky Warnock
A protester wears a golden mask and Romanian flag during a demonstration in Bucharest against Gabriel Resources Rosia Montana gold and silver project  

Corporate vampires have tried to suck $4 billion out of Romania, and with TTIP the UK could be next

Kevin Smith
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen