The cold blooded murder of Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers – just outside his barracks in Woolwich – saw Al Qaeda-type savagery and bestiality explode in our midst for the first time since 7/7. It is the kind of savagery and bestiality that is no respector of borders, race, religion, or creed. It is the same kind of savagery we saw last week in the film of the so-called freedom fighter in Syria cutting out the heart and lungs of a dead Syrian soldier, prior to holding them up to the camera and starting to eat them.
Lee Rigby was 25, married, and father to a 2 year old son. We don’t know the name or age of the Syrian soldier who was killed, whether or not like Lee Rigby he was married or had children. The chances are he was and did. What we do know is that they were both victims of a sick ideology.
What should never be forgotten is that the vast majority of victims of this ideology and savagery are Muslims, whether in Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Mali or Syria. The reason it is crucial to highlight this point is that such heinous acts and those responsible are as unrepresentative of Islam and Muslims as the mass murderer Anders Brevik is of Christianity and Christians.
The word connecting both is extremism. It links the beasts responsible for what took place in Woolwich and groups such as the EDL, who immediately sought to capitalize on it in order to foment the same kind of sectarian war that Muslims and Arabs around the war have suffered for the past decade and more. Surely now, witnessing the the EDL at work in the immediate aftermath of this brutal murder, it is time for society to come together and drive these racist thugs off our streets.
The overriding priority of all right thinking people – a categorisation that unfortunately at this point does not extend to our political leaders – is to understand where this ideology comes from, what feeds it, and the most effective way of combating it. Clearly the tools employed up to now have been wanting. Fighting fire with fire only produces more fire; and fire is what we have been spreading unabated throughout the Muslim world since 9/11. Surely, after more than a decade of piling up bodies in the name of democracy, we can no longer afford the luxury of fooling ourselves that killing innocent people over ‘there’ – directly or by proxy – will not result in the killing of innocent people here.
The Muslim community in this country has nothing to apologize for. It does not deserve to be put in the dock for the actions of a few crazed killers who seek to justify bestiality with a distorted and twisted ideology. What does deserve to be put in the dock is a foreign policy that on the one hand fuels and courts extremism and extremists, while on the other wages war on it with the blunt instruments of drone strikes, missile strikes, and wars of occupation.
Britain’s participation in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has been a disaster – both for the Afghan and Iraqi people, yes, but also for society here at home. While the hatred these wars have resulted in towards the West is no justification for the brutal murder in Woolwich, they cannot be abstracted from the equation either. In an age of electronic communications, social media, and YouTube, the ability of a hate-filled ideology to spread and feed a twisted understanding of the world in response to the West’s immersion in these wars is self evident.
Hypocrisy is never far from any British prime minister’s lips at times like this. How can any British government proclaim its revulsion of Islamic extremism when it continues to enjoy close and friendly relations with the Saudis, a government that legitimates the very same? In case anyone has forgotten, in Saudi Arabia people are beheaded in public, women are treated as no better than chattel, and human rights do not exist. The most barbaric cultural and religious practices are embraced in Saudi Arabia under the rubric of Wahhabism and yet we sell its government of clapped-out potentates billions of pounds in weapons and military hardware every year.
The point is that Islamic extremism is something our leaders have used when its suits them, doing so in order to pursue certain geopolitical objectives. The beast who mutilated the body of the dead soldier in Syria last week is no different from the beasts who butchered a British soldier in Woolwich. Yet Britain along with France is currently seeking to overturn a EU ban on supplying weapons to non state actors in order to arm various rebel factions operating in Syria, many if not most of which are adherents of Sunni extremism and the ideology of Al Qaeda.
It is utter madness.
In response to Woolwich the Muslim community, via its various organizations, has been united in its condemnation and revulsion. Victims and opponents of extremism must stand together – which means Muslims, non-Muslims, white, Asian, black, everyone who understands that those responsible for butchering innocent people come in all guises. They come dressed in jeans and trainers armed with knives and meat cleavers, and they come dressed in tailored suits armed with smiles and the sanction of government.