Two weeks have passed since Drummer Lee Rigby was savagely murdered on the streets of Woolwich by two knife-wielding lunatics. News has a habit of moving quickly, and often tragedies and stories are left behind, soon forgotten.
But every time I have turned on a radio or television news programme since, it isn’t long until the conversation turns to Woolwich, Lee Rigby, Michael Adebolajo, Michael Adebowale, and Muslims. So-called experts are quick to pass comments, thankfully most speak a great deal of sense, and members of the public call in with their opinions.
Like many, I cannot erase the images of that Wednesday from my mind and struggle to comprehend precisely what happened, and more so, why? And for the first time, there is a definite shift in the mood. There is a deeper tension in the air.
As I watched the news ticker at the bottom of the television screen that afternoon, I saw “Allahu Akbar”, and my heart sank. Again? How many times will we have to go through this? When will be the last time? The mayhem unfolded and we were given details of this cruel, barbaric and unfathomable murder. We all knew how this was going to go, and we dreaded what was to come.
The English Defence League (EDL) wasted no time. They took to the streets and the internet within hours, stirring up support and spreading false rumours, causing further terror in a society which had been terrorised enough.
For the first couple of days, I heard stories from friends who were being subjected to racist rants on social networking sites. I was curious about the underlying mood, and logged onto Twitter, first searching “Woolwich Muslims”, then “Woolwich Pakis” and, unsurprisingly, was horrified with what I read. Yes it was a foolish thing to do. Why give such narrow-minded, uneducated people the satisfaction of an audience? But it was important to know, just to try and understand the level of racism that exists in our country. And it was a terrifying discovery.
Yes we can say they are ignorant and we should not pay any attention. But wasn’t it ignorance and lack of understanding that led to the horror on the streets of Woolwich on Wednesday afternoon?
As the days progressed and the press attention showed no signs of subsiding, fear turned to anger. Not only did the press continue to scaremonger, but members of the Muslim community began acting irrationally out of fear. I came across a checklist posted online “for Muslims” on how to stay safe, with advice including don’t walk down a dark alley alone, don’t let the elderly, the young, or women walk the streets alone. We are quick to point the finger over issues of “us” and “them”, but we are just as guilty of it. Such behaviour can only lead to more divisions within society, when this is the time we must all stand together.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown put it perfectly when she wrote, “We hate Islamicist brutes more than any outsiders ever could. They ruin our futures and hopes.” And she is right. If there is anyone who will benefit the most from the expulsion of these extremists, it is the law-abiding, everyday Muslim. But until that day comes, we must not separate ourselves. Yes we are Muslims, but we are also British, and it is up to us to decide which way this goes.
Historically there has been a pattern of tarring the innocent with the same brush as the guilty. Germans were all labeled as Nazis, Russians as Commies, and now it’s the turn of the Muslims to be regarded with suspicion and feel the repercussions of the insane few.
The educated majority must lead by example. We cannot condone the backlash from the right, but we must do more than behave like victims and constantly look over our shoulders. How many times have we found ourselves saying, “That does not represent Islam” over the last week? We must look further, open our eyes and see what could be happening in small groups of our own communities, right under our noses.
Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion, and one cannot help but wonder how many more Michael Adebolajos there are out there, indoctrinated on our doorsteps by banned extremist organisations like Al-Muhajiroun. How many more times will we have to turn on the news and worry about another heinous crime carried out by “Islamists”? We are just as afraid as you, if not more so, that this will never stop.
But extremism is not only reserved for the Muslims. Two days ago I heard an EDL supporter on the radio talking about her hatred for the ideology of Islam. I listened, wanting to understand, and eventually switched it off. How can we reason with people unwilling to look at the bigger picture? The EDL may have convinced themselves they are the fighting for a greater good, but they are no better than the monsters they condemn.
We must shake off the fear, and the anger, and remind ourselves we have little to do with this. If we stop trying to defend ourselves, others may also separate us from these unforgivable acts of violence. If we stop behaving as if we are scared, persecuted and victimised, maybe then the scaremongering and suspicion will end.