Woolwich murder was perverse, not merely extreme
Last Thursday, the two men who murdered the soldier Lee Rigby in the street outside an army barracks in Woolwich and then paraded on camera with bloodied hands and a meat cleaver, were found guilty of murder. They face life in prison, although the judge delayed sentence until a separate case on the legality of whole-life terms is settled (indicating that the judge is minded to impose one). An interesting revelation was that the two men, who were found not guilty of charges of conspiracy to murder a police officer, had carried unloaded firearms so as to point them at police, to provoke them to shoot them dead so as to achieve ‘martyrdom’. This clearly indicates the perversity of their thinking, which places it well outside the realm of any Islamic movement, however radical or extremist, something that eludes commentators of both left and right who have placed the crime in entirely the wrong context, attaching it to an “Islamic movement” which would never have done something like this.
In Islam martyrdom is achieved by dying fighting in battle, assuming one was sincerely fighting “in the way of Allah” (and not for acquiring the spoils of war or for the prestige of being a fighter, for example). The soldier is not meant to fight to die, but to advance the cause of Islam (or to defend the Muslims or a Muslim state or settlement), with the promise of an eternal reward if their life is lost. Provoking a police officer to kill you by holding a harmless object is not fighting but merely pretending to do so; it is what is known in the USA as “suicide by cop”; it is a way of ensuring one’s own death, often to escape hardships in life or the consequences of one’s actions, without having to do what is necessary to kill oneself and without their death being quite suicide. Every Muslim knows the difference between this and dying fighting, and I cannot imagine that the “two Michaels” did not as well. It’s possible that they were acting out of sheer cowardice in not wanting to face their punishment, but also that they were trying to implicate the police by giving the impression that they “killed two of the mujahideen”, rather than two thugs with what looked like firearms who were threatening their lives, and perhaps others’ lives.
Douglas Murray, on his Spectator blog, claims that the murder “had everything to do with Islam – the worst possible version of Islam, certainly, but a version of Islam nonetheless … one with a considerable and bloody presence — across the Indian sub-continent, the Middle East, North Africa and now in Europe”. The logic is essentially that whatever a person claiming to be Muslim says is Islam, is Islam, even if it is not what other Muslims believe to be Islam. These two men were not acting under the auspices of any disciplined group or any movement, even al-Qa’ida; they had spent time around radical political Muslims (or agents provocateurs pretending to be of that type) but acted on their own initiative, using very basic weaponry to kill a single soldier — or perhaps anyone they might assume was connected to or just sympathetic to soldiers, since a “Help for Heroes” T-shirt is not military uniform and may be worn by a civilian. Perhaps they believed the Islamists they met were all talk and were impatient for “action”, and perhaps they wanted to start a big war and force Muslims to take a side (preferably theirs), but that they acted alone demonstrates that they had no connection to any Islamic movement.
Murray’s claim that this “version of Islam” has a presence in the places mentioned is not borne out by this single incident; there have not been huge numbers of such attacks, or attacks of any sort in fact. In the UK, there has not been a successful terrorist attack by Muslims since 2005 (although there have been attacks foiled), which suggests that the violent Islamist tendency has neither the numbers nor the sophistication to carry out a sustained terrorist campaign on UK soil. He then boasts that opinion polls from various European countries (and Australia) show that the public has developed negative views of Islam as backward and threatening (the evidence being a blog post by Daniel Pipes), but there is no discussion of whether these perceptions are based on real Muslim behaviour in their countries or on hostile and distorted media coverage of anything to do with Islam or Muslims. The tone and content of discussion every time there is a controversy surrounding Muslims in this country (including the recent “campus segregation” issue, entirely fabricated by a front for the think-tank Murray is involved in) suggests the latter.
In the Guardian today there was a column by Seumas Milne, the paper’s comment editor, who is singing from at least a similar hymn sheet to Murray; he claims that attacks like this are predictable blowback for British involvement in American wars and “eight direct military interventions in Arab and Muslim countries that have left hundreds of thousands of dead”. To a certain extent, it’s true that some of the terrorist attacks that have happened are a response to western actions in the Muslim world, but as those interventions have slowed down (and the ones that have happened in the last few years have not been targeted at the likes of al-Qa’ida but convenient for them), the terrorist responses have dried up as well. We could, and did, say that the government were partly to blame for throwing the public under the terrorists’ bus in 2005 by involving us in a war we had nothing to do with, but that argument doesn’t hold in this case. There was no great outpouring of Muslim rage by that point, just two losers desperate for a fight. In the words of Billy Bragg (about racist football hooligans), “the wars they think they’re fighting were all over long ago”.
This attack was not only an affront to mainstream Islam and to ordinary Muslims who wanted to get on with their lives, but is entirely out of character for violent political Islam. Anyone who attaches it to the latter is either ignorant, dishonest or has forgotten their history, and it’s recent history at that. I also agree with those who want to stop the remnants of al-Muhajiroun getting repeated media exposure when they are, in fact, a tiny group who represent only themselves, who disrupt the activities and campaigns of other Muslims and are widely held in suspicion by them (as they are supposedly a major conduit to terrorism, yet its leadership has remained at liberty for years despite their succession of named groups being banned). The opinion of Anjum Choudary or Omar Bakri Muhammad are entirely irrelevant as they are neither authorities on Islam nor are they the leaders of a serious movement with a large following; in fact, their activities are banned in most mosques and their opinion is sought by the mass media precisely for the entertainment value of having an extreme and offensive opinion injected into a prime-time news discussion. It is irresponsible, if not malicious, and unfairly puts the focus on Muslims, rather than the two criminals who committed the murder on their own initiative.
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