Woolwich knife attack is not terrorism

Yesterday a British soldier was attacked by two men with butchers’ knives on a street in Woolwich, south-east London, and killed in broad daylight in public view near to a primary school not long before the end of the school day. The men made no attempt to flee, one of them making a political statement to a passer-by’s camera or mobile phone, the footage of which was released to the press. When the police finally arrived, they then made to attack the police but were both shot and are now in separate hospitals. The area around the scene of the crime (which is on part of the South Circular Road, a major route for trucks) is still closed off. Last night the government’s emergency committee, known as COBRA, was meeting and the incident was said to be being treated as a “terrorist incident”. The Daily Mail has a pretty comprehensive coverage of the incident, along with some gratuitous sideswipes at local minority populations (including the clear images of two Black women walking past the attacker, in obvious contrast with the white woman who confronted him). Note: a picture of the attacker (taken from the video footage) is over the fold. (More: Half a Giraffe, The Goldfish on phony mental health speculations, Scriptonite Daily.)

Picture of a black man with bloodied hands, with bloody weapons in his left handWhen I first heard that the attackers were of “Muslim appearance”, it seemed that it was idle speculation, because there really is no such thing (local Muslims are mostly Somali, but others in London are South Asian, Arab, West African and white — in other words, that could mean anything) and even if they shouted “Allahu akbar”, it could be a disguise for simple gang activity. Even the man in the video is not really of “Muslim apperance”, not wearing any distinctive Islamic item of clothing, for example. One of the attackers has been named as a British Nigerian called Michael Adebolajo, also known as Mujahid, and his use of the distinctly Biblical phrase “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, suggests that he is a convert, and it is reported that at least one of them had been seen preaching in the streets of Woolwich recently.

There has been the usual parade of Muslim organisations condemning the attack, but there has also been the opportunists trying to put their spin on it, notably Usama Hasan of the Quilliam Foundation, who told the BBC:

The real problem here is the decisive hatred preached by a very small minority of clerics in this country in a small number of our mosques and universities. They know who they are and there are Muslim groups and other groups - left wing groups may I say - who defend that kind of grievance and victimhood mentality. That’s what must change and has to stop. A very small number of people but unfortunately their influence is too high

At least he says it is a very small number rather than (as you might expect from someone like Taj Hargey) a whole lot of them, but really, it’s a small and declining network that mosques have been struggling to get rid of for years. Al-Muhajiroun, despite their loud and disruptive demonstrations (although there have been none of those recently to my knowledge), are a shadow of what they were before 9/11, when they could book guests who weren’t members of their group (like a general from Pakistan, as I recall) and easily fill a hall. After 9/11, they changed their stance and methodology (which is why they were eventually banned) and relied on the media who were always ready when they had an inflammatory statement to make, even though they represented only themselves. What he is calling a “victimhood mentality” is a set of serious and quite legitimate political grievances which are widespread outside of the “salafi-jihadi” sect which never was entirely dependent on it. You did not get them at anti-war demonstrations and they are not connected to the left-wing anti-war contingent. He is trying to tie it to general Muslim attitudes, when this is the first time Muslims have done anything like this in London. The last time soldiers were killed in London, it was by the provisional IRA.

This is also not a “terrorist” incident, except by a convenient politicised definition. Terrorism refers to acts of spectacular violence which are intended to intimidate or punish populations; they are intended to cause injury and possibly death to passers-by. It does not refer to targeted killings or to acts of sabotage that are not intended to cause loss of life. This was a political murder, and was not accompanied by any similar co-ordinated attacks or attempted attacks. Unless the police find evidence of connections to others planning similar attacks, it should be considered an isolated brutal murder by two men who have been shot by police, are now under guard in hospital, and one of whom could die. Even the military have told soldiers that it is OK to wear their uniforms in public after advice not to that lasted just hours. If they are not panicking, nobody else should.

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