Friday, 24 May 2013

Woolwich: it's time to confront some obvious truths

Perhaps it might be useful, as we contemplate the horror of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in Woolwich on Wednesday, to have a quick look through the history books.

In 1971, for example, Robert Campbell killed 15 people in a bomb attack on McGurk's bar in Belfast. He was not a Muslim.  

In 1984, the then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was shot dead by two of her security guards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. They weren't Muslims either.

In 1991, a suicide bomber named Thenmozhi Rajaratnam blew herself up and killed Indira Gandhi's son and heir apparent, Rajiv.  She was not Muslim.

In 1994, Baruch Goldstein opened fire in a mosque in Hebron, in the West Bank, and killed 29 Palestinian worshippers. As you might have guessed, he wasn't a Muslim.

In 1998, 29 people were killed in a bomb attack in Omagh, in northern Ireland. Not one of the bombers was Muslim.

And yes, I'm coming to it, in 2001, a group of hijackers killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. All 19 of the hijackers were Muslim.

As were the attackers who killed more than 200 people in Bali in 2002, another 200 in  Madrid in 2004, 52 people in the London bombings of July 2005, and 160 in Mumbai in 2008.

Oh, and while I'm at it, in 2011 Anders Breivik killed 77 people in Oslo, and last December, Adam Lanza killed 26 people, most of them children, at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. Neither Breivik nor Lanza were Muslim.

You see my point, don't you? There's nothing "Islamic" about acts of violence. So all those anguished questions along the lines of "What is it about Islam that drives people to such terrible acts of violence?" seem to me to be entirely specious.

Of course, there's a tiny number of Muslims who say they carry out acts of violence in the name of their religion. Just as there are some Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and -- as we've seen in Burma -- even Buddhists, who say the same.

We will learn more in the coming days about who the alleged Woolwich attackers were and the background to what appears to have been an unusually brutal attack. For now, though, the clearest pointer comes from one of the alleged assailants themselves.

According to the account given by the remarkably courageous Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, who confronted them within minutes of the attack: "I asked him if he did it and he said yes, and I said why? And he said because he [the victim] has killed Muslim people in Muslim countries, he said he was a British soldier and I said really and he said 'I killed him because he killed Muslims and I am fed up with people killing Muslims in Afghanistan, they have nothing to do there.'"

Now, there are many people who object to US and British policy in Afghanistan and in other Muslim countries such as Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. Plenty of Muslims and non-Muslims alike have been sickened by images from Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, or showing soldiers posing and gloating over the bodies of dead "insurgents". They may be deeply opposed to the Obama administration's use of drones to kill "high value targets" in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia -- but they don't go out onto the streets of London or New York to kill soldiers.

So it seems to me there are two tough questions that need to be asked: first, can anything effective be done to reduce the number of vulnerable young men who are likely to be persuaded by the sort of propaganda that leads them to commit acts of violence?

Second, does it make sense to go on pretending that these acts, when they occur, have nothing to do with government policy? It may or may not have been right for Britain to join with the US in invading Afghanistan and Iraq, but can we honestly claim that British military action in those countries has had nothing at all to do with the radicalisation of a tiny handful of young Muslims?

This is not to argue for one moment that government policy should be made dependent on the perceived threat that it could upset a few alienated urban youths. But perhaps it's time at least to confront an obvious truth: that actions in faraway places can produce reactions on streets at home.

And while we're confronting obvious truths, here's another one: there will be no end to terrorist attacks (President Obama admitted as much in his speech last night). The police and the security services will do everything they can to prevent them, and to keep tabs on people whom they regard as potential threats -- but let's be honest: there's no way they can monitor round-the-clock every single disaffected youth, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, who spends too many hours looking up "How to make a bomb" websites or sending blood-curdling text messages to his mates.

A final point about the way the Woolwich attack was reported, and the widespread publication of the image of one of the alleged attackers with blood on his hands. I don't believe it would have been right to suppress the images once they had become available -- newspapers and other mainstream media organisations simply look foolish if they self-censor material that can lawfully be published and which is already readily available elsewhere.

But if I'd been editing one of yesterday morning's newspapers, I wouldn't have put the picture on the front page -- and I would have used as a headline not the threats of the attackers but the words of Ingrid Loyau-Kennett as she confronted them: "It is only you versus many people, you are going to lose …"

On a day like last Wednesday, surely it's better to focus on the heroes rather than the villains.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Robin

Marc Kushin said...

Well put. Would be nice, though, if this point of view could be put across on Today, World at One, PM etc..

Danny said...

As obvious as many of your truths are, they do need restating. Although our naive and incredibly damaging foreign policy choices do not help, I think the alienation issue of many British young (mostly) men is at the heart of the issue. Only a tiny few turn to extremism and acts of 'terrorism'. But far more turn to violent crime, domestic abuse, and self-harm - and the cost of these to society is much higher. Many find themselves trapped in a world increasingly less socially mobile, that surrounds them with images of what they could have, and drums into them that their lot in life is entirely their fault and that they have no legitimate right to complain.

Kit Green said...

We have too many laws in this country that mollycoddle people who claim to be upset too easily.
These laws unintentionally pander to the extreme minorities by limiting criticism of their views and actions by those cowed by the fear of prosecution.
The laws therefore work the wrong way round, unless the divide and rule scenario is accepted.

Jenko said...

Nail. Head.

A former colleague said...

Robin, I agree that newspapers were right to publish pictures of the man with blood on his hands, as it told people what had happened, but what about the TV footage? To my mind, allowing a murderer with blood on his hands - literally - to preach his message to the world was utterly wrong. The argument that ITV and the BBC had little choice but to show it because "the material was already out there on the internet" is specious. There is plenty of material freely available on the net(beheadings and the like), which can be relevant to news stories but which we don't show; why should this case be any different. My impression is that on this occasion, editors were simply too excited by the footage in front of them to consider the implications properly. On this occasion the most worrying implication is that other would-be killers now know that they don't need to make elaborate plans for sophisticated attacks in order to get on TV and preach to millions - they just need to butcher someone at random in the street.

Unknown said...

Excellent. Thank you for writing this

Simon said...

Well said and not to soon.
Why is it that we have to wait for the inevitable bloody back lash or 'blow back' to occur before these truths are aired?. Many have been shouting about it for decades. Our governments acting not in our name put us all on the front line.

Anonymous said...

In January, 624, poet Asma bint Marwan was murdered for "opposing the prophet Muhammad with poetry".

The attacker WAS Muslim.

A month later, Abu Afak was murdered for the same reason:

Also a Muslim.

My point is that Islam was founded by a man who preached peace but lived a life of violence. Jihadists don't find mere justification for their acts in the life of Muhammad, they find encouragement by example. If the root is bad, how can the tree bear good fruit? I don't expect you to publish this (in fact I hope you don't), but it might be worth some research.

Here's Mufti Umar Farooq's verdict on the Marwan murder. Note he first justifies it, then denies it ever happened. It's nice when winning and losing are both winning:

Anonymous said...

Here is perhaps one of the most astounding examples of the deep contradictions within Islam:

Englishman said...

Kit Green has a view that I share.

I also have this to say;

Using excuses akin to those thrown around during the Woolwich riots e.g. 'the poor disillusioned neglected youth of today' only serves to excuse this kind of behaviour.

While I agree with the facts you've stated that not all terrorist or other atrocities are undertaken by Muslims or indeed any other single faith or perhaps non-faith or ethnicity for that matter.

When, for example, the IRA (different faith, different political views, same issues with our government policies) were carrying out their murderous deeds, it would not have been acceptable to defend or excuse their behaviour and it definitely wouldn't have been acceptable to promote their message on the streets of our capital (as one of the Drummer Rigby's attackers had done at rallies and protests previously), so why is it OK now?

Is it because they have different coloured skin? Because they are Muslim? What other differences exist?

Words like racist and Islamphobe have come to be used as quite a tool to make sure serious issues can't be discussed and practical solutions devised.

Lee Rigby died at the hands of black, Muslim men acting out what they've been educated to believe, IN THIS COUNTRY, their duty to their religion and their God.

Don't make excuses. The government and the people in the UK need to stop worrying about offending people and start finding practical solutions to problems working with people of all faiths and colours who want to integrate with our society and join our communities.

This is our England so lets all protect it together.

Anonymous said...

Robin, This is superb analysis and nothing more than what I would expect from you.Regards Mohammed Azam.

Gaye Berry said...

What made this particular attack so stark was the brutal nature of the incident & alleged perpetrators made no attempt to escape. They took advantage of the situation to tell the world why the incident happened.
Mainstream media has been that of two crazed men (at least one spoke with a London accent), possibly acting on their own, who had been indoctrinated or radicalised by strands of Islam.
The media, politicians & commentators have been quick to talk about preventing the radicalisation of Muslims living in Britain.
When certain acts of terror have taken place in Britain in the past, however, senior politicians have denied any link to British foreign policy. This time, one of the alleged perpetrators in Woolwich is on video explicitly linking the brutal murder directly to foreign policy. It doesn’t justify the attack, but it certainly helps to explain.
Most politicians and commentators have tended to avoid the foreign policy issue by focusing on the horrific nature of the attack and ‘crazed, indoctrinated people’. The fact that the dead soldier was said to be wearing a ‘hope for heroes’ t-shirt at the time has further fuelled the outpouring of national grief and anger. Hope for Heroes is a charity offering support to soldiers returning from conflict.
Perhaps they should turn to Noam Chomsky for an answer. When once asked how to prevent terrorism, he replied “stop committing it.”
Either overtly or covertly, the British Govt has been involved in the ‘war on terror’ or ‘humanitarian militarism’ across the Muslim world, from Libya, Syria & Iraq to Afghanistan & Pakistan. At the same time it has been a staunch supporter of brutal, undemocratic puppet dictators throughout Africa & West Asia. The dominiant political and media message is that British military involvement is necessary to prevent terrorism reaching its shores. Without a hint of hypocrisy on their part, politicians and commentators use incidents like Woolwich to say to the public – look, this is what happens if we do not keep vigilant.
The media likes to compartmentalise issues. Focus on the Woolwich attack, not civilian deaths in Afghanistan, drone attacks that terrorise & kill innocents, Guauntanamo, Palestine, etc.
Anyone who criticises British foreign policy and linking it to Woolwich, while even condemning the attack there, is regarded with a degree of suspicion, is regarded as ‘unpatriotic’, as not supporting the troops.
Of course, you will never hear any TV news channel or political debate in parliament bring up the Project for a New Americam Century, a plan devised by US neo-cons and which sets out the underlying reasons for the West’s ongoing destabilizations, covert operations, killings, murders, death squads & torture that have nothing to do with humanitarianism or ‘fighting terror’ and everything to do with securing world domination. No mention of it or Britain’s role in supporting it. Instead, we stick to the story about the proper way of preventing terror at home is by stopping the indoctrination or brain washing of young Muslims. No focus on the Western-fueled barbarity and hacked to death bodies on blood stained streets in far away lands.