Yesterday afternoon, Britain was rocked by the sudden, shocking news of a gruesome murder murder in Woolwich. News reports revealed, over the subsequent hours, that the murder victim had been hit with a car before being brutally attacked with machete-like knives. It transpired that the victim was wearing a ‘Help for Heroes’ shirt, as well as being a member of the armed forces. What’s more, the BBC quickly revealed that the attackers had shouted ‘God is great’ in Arabic as they attacked. Yes, the murderers were Muslims. I want to talk briefly about two things in this post: first (and most importantly), there is the danger that all Muslims will now be stereotyped as dangerous terrorists and second, I want to highlight the attention-seeking nature of the attack. I’ll finish the post by writing out some of the most relevant thoughts that I have come across on Twitter.
So now, my first point. This murder was carried out by two men who called themselves Muslims. I will not call them fundamentalists because I don’t know whether Islamic tradition supports or condemns their actions. I would guess at the latter. What I want to get across is that the Muslim community should not be held accountable for the actions of these two men. The attacks on mosques in Kent and Surrey are unacceptable. Don’t misunderstand me on this; people are well within their rights to be outraged, but don’t get angry at the wrong people. Blaming all Muslims for this is like blaming all Christians for the pedophilia of a tiny minority of priests, or all atheists for the genocidal acts of Stalin. The responses from the Muslim Council of Britain and Muslims I have come across on social media sites show beyond doubt that the Muslim community does not condone this horrific act. So let’s not use this attack as an excuse to release racial hatred; treat it as it really is: the gruesome act of two extremists.
The other thing that I noticed was that the attackers clearly wanted attention. They chose a victim whose death would create a national commotion and they struck near Woolwich’s barracks – the place where British soldiers are supposed to be safe. What’s more, according to witnesses, the men made no attempt to evade capture, but ran up and down the street making sure they were caught on film. In footage obtained by ITV News, one of the attackers was captured saying: “We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. We must fight them as they fight us. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
It may be a complete coincidence, but it seems obvious that these men wanted media attention. They appear to have calculated the best way to get their attack noticed, just like the infamous Ukrainian criminals who filmed their murders in the Dnepropetrovsk massacre a few years back, or the more recent case of Anders Breivik in Norway. These people know the power of the media and are using it well. Is there something that needs to be done about this? That is not for me to say (at least in this post), but we cannot ignore the fact that media coverage gives these people the platform they need to broadcast their views to the world (I know there’s irony in that by writing this, I’m increasing the exposure, but I don’t really have a choice if I want to bring the media issue up). I’m cautious of going too far and saying that it’s because of media coverage that people do things like this, there may be a connection that needs to be addressed.
Now for some other people’s views that I came across on Twitter yesterday evening as the news was breaking:
“I haven’t heard him so scared before, and then he said an innocent person was killed…horrible.”
“Mayor of London describes the Woolwich murder as ‘unforgivable’. No Boris, all is forgivable. That’s the scandalous power of the cross.” – @TheAlethiophile
“Before people make racist, anti-Muslim statement’s about today’s events. Stop. Just stop.” – @EuanMcDougall
“Let’s not get Muslim extremists mixed up with Muslims ey!” @ianyoungkop
“Please don’t judge Islam based on what these 2 guys did in London. Islam teaches no such thing. #peace” – @MrBoywunder