Horror, anger, dismay, frustration and fear are just a few of the emotions that the Muslim population in the UK (and possibly around the world) have been experiencing in the last few weeks. The attack and murder of soldier Lee Rigby by two Muslim men, on the streets of Woolwich, in broad daylight has yet again stunned the nation. The shocking brutality of the attack has evoked outrage and condemnation by both Muslims and non Muslims alike.
On May 22, 2013 if you happened to be near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich around 14:20, you might have thought you were watching a horrific scene from a television crime serial or movie. You might have witnessed a young man being run down by a car and then watched while two men jumped out of the car and started hacking the injured man with meat cleavers sand knives.
You might also have watched in horror as they tried to decapitate the victim. You would probably have seen the men then drag the body of the victim onto the road. For the people who actually were in the vicinity of the barracks, this was no movie or television shoot. They would have been witnessing the tragic slaughter of 25-year-old soldier Drummer (Private) Lee Rigby of the British Army.
The two men, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale were caught on camera by eye witnesses; their hands covered in blood, holding a meat cleaver and gun. Instead of running from the scene of the crime, they proceeded to engage in a conversation with a woman passerby who had initially stopped to help the victim thinking he had been injured in the car accident. Having seen that the man lying on the road was already dead and had obviously been attacked, she had the courage and presence of mind to keep the two men talking while the police arrived. Two other women came and sat by the body of the young man until he was taken away by the authorities. It is sickening to read statements from witnesses who said the two assailants were shouting 'Allahu Akbar' while attacking Rigby.
Another eye witness managed to video Micheal Adebolajo who tried to justify his actions. According to The Daily Telegraph transcript, he states that:
“The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. And this British soldier is one. ... By Allah, we swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. So what if we want to live by the Sharia in Muslim lands? Why does that mean you must follow us and chase us and call us extremists and kill us? ... When you drop a bomb do you think it hits one person? Or rather your bomb wipes out a whole family? ... Through [many passages in the] Koran we must fight them as they fight us. ... I apologise that women had to witness this today but in our lands women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your governments, they don't care about you. You think David Cameron is going to get caught in the street when we start busting our guns? You think politicians are going to die? No, it's going to be the average guy, like you and your children. So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so we can, so you can all live in peace."
It angers me that these men have yet again used Islam as a justification for such a heinous act. With Islam already gaining a reputation for being a religion that teaches violence and aggression, this incident has just added to the misconception. Where in the Quran does it suggest that the butchering of an innocent man, woman or child is acceptable?
I watch in dismay as people such as Anjem Choudary, the former head of the banned extremist organisation Al Muhajiroun refuse to condemn the Woolwich attack and instead praise the attackers and dub them martyrs. He also goes on to say that soldier Lee Rigby will “burn in hellfire.”
His incendiary remarks can only propagate the cycle of distrust and hate against Muslims in this country. He states that “... as an adult non-Muslim, whether he is part of the Army or not part of the Army, if he dies in a state of disbelief then he is going to go to the hellfire. That's what I believe so I'm not going to feel sorry for non-Muslims. We invite them to embrace the message of Islam. If they don't, then obviously if they die like that they're going to the hellfires.”
Living in the UK, it is hard not to feel the frustration grow day by day while watching people like Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale take to the streets and proclaim a war on the people on Britain in the name of Islam. Or have extremist Anjem Choudary take centre stage in the media for his hate mongering, instead of putting to the forefront the majority of Muslims who have distanced themselves from this barbaric act and condemned the way Islam has been used as its justification.
What is needed is the moderate voice of organisations such as The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) to be heard where they state that; “No cause justifies this murder”; that this is “a barbaric act that has no basis in Islam” and the MCB “condemn this unreservedly”; and that a “vast majority of British Muslims acknowledge armed forces for the work they do.” They also urge “for calls of calm and unity in all communities.”
However, since the attack and murder of Lee Rigby there have been a growing number of demonstrations and protests from far right organisations such as The English Defence League (EDL). There has also been an increase in anti Muslim incidents. According to Fiyaz Mughal, director Faith Matters, an organisation that monitors anti Muslim activity, people had reported increased incidents of verbal and physical abuse and Muslim women's head scarves being pulled off. Also according to Faith Matters, there have already been over two hundred Islamophopic incidents.
Many people within the Muslim community have begun to fear for their safety especially since a mosque in Grimsby was petrol bombed whilst there were people inside the building. Two soldiers have been remanded in custody for the attack. It was sheer luck that no one was injured during the blast. Following the Grimsby episode, another Islamic community centre and mosque frequented by the Somali Muslims in North London was targeted. This time the centre was burned down during the night. It required six fire engines and thirty five firemen to battle the blaze and the entire building was damaged including partial collapse of the structure. More recently, a fire was started by intruders at an Islamic boarding school in Kent, six miles from Woolwich where the attack on Rigby took place. Two boys have been treated for smoke inhalation due to the fire.
We should view Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale not as Islamic terrorists but as two disenfranchised and disturbed individuals who converted to Islam and misused it to feel part of something bigger and wished to bring some purpose and meaning to their lives with devastating consequences. Each time there is an incident like the Woolwich attack; there are reprisals not just for the perpetrators of the act but the entire Muslim community who have to face the repercussions on a day to day basis. Maybe as a nation Britain (including the Muslim community) needs to spend a time of introspection and understand why the two Michaels and many others like them turn to extremism (Muslim, far right, etc) and address the cause not just the symptom.