by Ted Welch
Mon Jun 3rd, 2013 at 11:37:54 AM EST
One positive thing to come out of the Woolwich killing was the action of the three women, particularly Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, who thought it was a road accident and tried to help, then realised what had happened and engaged both men in conversation:
She's been widely admired, somewhat to her embarrassment.
One commentator thought her work with cub scouts was evident in that she spoke to them as if they were eight-year olds. I thought it reflected her experience as a teacher (see interview), which she said could be "quite stressful", thus when one said to her that he was waiting for the police and intended to kill them, she asked if that was "reasonable":
I asked him what he was going to do next because the police were going to arrive soon. He said it was a war and if the police were coming, he was going to kill them. I asked him if that was a reasonable thing to do but it was clear that he really wanted to do that. He talked about war but he did not talk about dying and then he left to speak to someone else.
"I went to speak to the other man who was quieter and more shy. I asked him if he wanted to give me what he was holding in his hand, which was a knife but I didn't want to say that. He didn't agree and I asked him: 'Do you want to carry on?' He said: 'No, no, no.' I didn't want to upset him and then the other man came back to me.
A remarkable fact was that one of the (alleged!) attackers was himself the victim of a knife attack and witnessed a friend stabbed to death:
One of the men arrested for hacking to death a soldier in a London street witnessed a murder and was himself stabbed in a frenzied knife attack five years ago, the Guardian has learned.
Michael Adebowale, who was pictured holding a blade minutes after the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich on Wednesday, had been caught up in an earlier fatal incident in January 2008 when he was 16.
One person was murdered in the bloody episode, having been "literally cut to pieces" by an assailant wielding a 12-inch knife, according to the judge at the trial that followed the incident, which happened on a housing estate in Erith.
Glen Greenwald wrote a good article very quickly, raising questions about the nature of terrorism.
How can one create a definition of "terrorism" that includes Wednesday's London attack on this British soldier without including many acts of violence undertaken by the US, the UK and its allies and partners? Can that be done?
I know this vital caveat will fall on deaf ears for some, but nothing about this discussion has anything to do with justifiability. An act can be vile, evil, and devoid of justification without being "terrorism": indeed, most of the worst atrocities of the 20th Century, from the Holocaust to the wanton slaughter of Stalin and Pol Pot and the massive destruction of human life in Vietnam, are not typically described as "terrorism". To question whether something qualifies as "terrorism" is not remotely to justify or even mitigate it. That should go without saying, though I know it doesn't.
Predictably he got attacked for relating the attack to US and UK foreign policy. He replied to Andrew Sullivan who's smart enough to understand the difference between an explanation and an excuse or justification:
we come to what Andrew Sullivan and others told their readers that I argued. Announcing at the start that "I really have to try restrain my anger here", Sullivan quickly accused me of spreading "Islamist propaganda". Arguing that US intervention in the Muslim world both before and after the 9/11 attack was noble and often beneficent - yes, he actually argued that with a straight face - he demands to know of me: "How can that legitimize a British citizen's brutal beheading of a fellow British citizen on the streets of London?" He then added: "The idea that this foul, religious bigotry . . . is some kind of legitimate protest against a fast-ending war is just perverse." He concludes with a real flourish: my "blindness to the savagery at the heart of Salafism", he decrees, "is very hard to understand, let alone forgive".
That I "legitimated" the London attack or argued it was a "legitimate protest" is as obvious a fabrication as it gets. Not only did I argue no such thing, and not only did I say the exact opposite of what Sullivan and others falsely attribute to me, but I expressly repudiated - in advance - the very claims they try to impose on me. Even vociferous critics of what I wrote, writing in neocon venues, understood this point ("I do find myself wanting to agree with Greenwald in arguing that this is an atrocious murder rather than an act of terror").
Their arguments are discussed here:
I don't agree with the criticism of Greenwald:
He may technically be right, but the timing and tone is relentlessly combative and insensitive. In that regard, I think Greenwald's work is often rendered useless given it is almost guaranteed to fall on deaf ears. Had Greenwald come out with a non-political piece expressing sorrow and anger about the London killing, then waited a few days to put it in perspective, he may have found a more receptive audience for his analysis.
The point point needs to be made while the issue is most in the news, because there will be plenty of people trying to deny the relevance of any connection to US/UK foreign policy, Boris Johnson, for example, despite the unusual fact that one of the men made the link in a statement recorded on a witness's mobile phone.
I had the same sort of distortion when I replied to a friend who suggested that it was up to the Muslim community to resolve such problems. I said that more effective would be not attacking other countries and killing so many Muslims. This, he claimed, meant I was excusing the crime and was an "apologist for Islamic fundamentalism."
Cf. Terry Eagleton:
"On this logic, the best way not to sound as though you are in favour of murdering soldiers on the streets of London is to see such events as utterly without rhyme or reason, like some baffling Dadaist happening. To concede that they have a motive, however malign, is to invest them with a dignity one feels the need to deny them. British intelligence, one assumes, was well aware some years ago that the IRA had rational grounds for its actions, however reprehensible it may have judged them. They weren't just killing out of boredom or bloodlust. The popular press, however, preferred to present guerrillas as gorillas - as psychopaths and wild beasts whose actions were simply unintelligible."
In trying to prevent yet another version of the distortion of what I said, I included Greenwald's examples of Pentagon, CIA, British ex-soldier, etc warnings about the probablity of "blowback". Here's the ex-head of MI5 - no "apologist for Islamic fundamentalism":
"Manningham-Buller told the Guardian last year that she had warned ministers and officials that an invasion of Iraq would increase the terrorist threat. Amid Anglo-US preparations to invade Iraq, she asked: "Why now?"
She added: "I said it as explicitly as I could. I said something like: 'The threat to us would increase because of Iraq.'"
Leading Muslims have frequently made clear their condemnation of violence and responsible Muslims know they have most to lose from such actions. There have been about 200 attacks on Muslims, mosques, etc; since the killing - Muslims expected this and had done what they could to avoid it:
"We hate Islamicist brutes more than any outsiders ever could. They ruin our futures and hopes. And at moments of high tension, the most liberal and democratic of us fantasise about transporting them all to a remote, cold island, their own dismal caliphate where they could preach to each other and die.
Muslim "leaders", imams and those in the public eye feel under pressure to line up and denounce such perpetrators. They do as expected partly to protect Muslims from unwarranted suspicion and revenge attacks."
I gave a dramatic example of a Muslim father whose son had been killed calming a crowd of angry youth - even the police praised him:
"Dr Chris Allen, an expert on Islamophobia at the University of Birmingham, said Muslims had historically been portrayed in a negative light by the British media, resulting in widespread mistrust.
That prejudice was turned on its head by the actions of a grieving father, Tariq Jahan, who publicly appealed for calm, just hours after his son was killed in the riots, he said.
Tariq Jahan: "I have lost my son - if you want to lose yours step forward, otherwise calm down"
Mr Jahan's response has been credited by police for helping to restore calm to the city.
Do watch the video the father's brief, impressive speech:
Obviously, foreign policy is not the only factor, but the refusal to engage with it is part of a wider narrative over how to deal with extremism, one that places responsibility solely with Britain's Muslim communities. Now, with the launch of a new "anti-terror task force", one Muslim organisation head told me that it looks like we're "back to square one; you Muslims deal with it". It is in line with a painfully ironic theme seemingly intoned by politicians and media alike: that Muslim communities must integrate - but must do so on their own. They must do so while national newspapers still make distinctions between "Brits" and "foreign-born people".
However another Muslim spokesperson argued that it was important for Muslims to react in a speedy, co-ordinated way:
Social media was used alongside conventional media channels. "Our Twitter account went into overdrive," Khan says. "We were relentless in emphasising our condemnation, and amplified the voices of our affiliates doing the same. This was not just some leaders condemning the attack, it was the entire community." Attempting to guide young Muslims using social media away from Twitter hate wars and towards constructive dialogue was another aim of the quick response.
Siddiqi added: "The community is maturing. The response was different to 7 July. In 2005, our organisations weren't as developed. Now there's more confidence, Muslims are more proactive."
They have been banning radical clericss for years, e.g:
... it has emerged that both he and Adebolajo attended a prayer group set up by Usman Ali, a radical cleric who was banned from the Greenwich Islamic Centre in 2007 after the mosque's trustees secured a court injunction against him."
But they now use more genteel, English tactics even for dealing with the right-wing English Defence League - well, when there were only six of them:
The Archbishop of York, Doctor John Sentamu has responded after York Mosque invited members of the English Defence League (EDL) in to talk over a cup of tea after receiving threats in the wake of soldier Lee Rigby's death.
What a fantastic response the York Mosque has made to the threat of a protest by the EDL! Tea, biscuits, and football are a great and typically Yorkshire combination when it comes to disarming hostile and extremist views.
But most EDL members and others are not so amenable to tea and empathy:
As participants in an English Defence League (EDL) march in Whitehall were recorded giving Nazi-style salutes, Faith Matters, which monitors anti-Muslim hatred, said the number of incidents in the past six days had risen to 193, including ten assaults on mosques. The figure compares to a total of 642 incidents in the previous 12 months - meaning the last week has seen a 15-fold increase on last year's average of 12 attacks per week.