How the Woolwich terror attack will harm Britain's Muslim community more

London: The immediate reactions to the killing of the British soldier in Woolwich could be just as worrying as the attack itself. Members of the neo-Nazi English Defence League gathered in rough protest over the killing, a protest really against people seen as outsiders, and against Muslims particularly. Two mosques were attacked at different places.

The Muslim community will be cornered into paying a price for the brutality of these two killers. The two attackers were medieval in their attack; they wanted to hit back at the army over perceived British military atrocities in primarily Muslim countries, and reports of atrocities from Iraq have been surfacing periodically, and more lately, Afghanistan. Hurt the military they did, but they have hurt the Muslim community in Britain in ways they perhaps never considered.

For Muslims in Britain, there comes one thing after another to get defensive about, and at quite short intervals. A group of Muslim men, most of them Pakistanis, were convicted just days earlier for running a sex exploitation ring that picked up white girls some as young as 11, stupefied them with drugs, raped them and then offered them around to other men for sex. That was the fifth such Pakistani gang engaged in such sex ‘grooming’ to have been cracked over the past few years.

“When we are not paedophiles, we are terrorists,” said a former Muslim councillor from the borough of Kensington. “Every time some madman does something, we have to explain ourselves. When there are rapes in India, you don’t have to explain you are a rapist. But when there is an attack by a Muslim person, we have to explain that we are not all terrorists.”


Far-right group, English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson, left, with EDL supporters outside The Queens Arms public house in Woolwich, south east London, following the death of a soldier, who was killed in broad daylight near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich. AP

Worse could follow in this case if investigations were to throw up a conspiracy beyond the two men who carried out the killing. From indoctrination to incitement is only a short step, and the police will want to know through interrogation of the injured men whether there some Islamist group may have been involved in conspiracy over this action, or in stoking what the killers thought of as an act of revenge.

Surveillance at mosques was scaled up massively after the terror bombings in London on 7 July, 2005 1995. That is bound to be scaled up now. The July 2005 suicide killers had been recruited in mosques in the north of England, and then armed and equipped to carry out the attacks. Mosques have been watched closely as possible sources for indoctrination.

That watch includes extensive electronic surveillance of conversations, calls and messages. More intrusively, it is believed to include extensive infiltration of worshippers to keep the police informed. In the environment now, the police will have to struggle to step that up.

All that the police can do did little to stop a couple of fellows from picking up a knife to attack a passing soldier somewhere. The government has announced a stepping up of security at military barracks. But Britain would hardly want to see a day when its own soldiers of all people cannot step out on to a street in their own country for fear of being attacked. And it would not want to see every Muslim walking by a soldier, or anyone else, as a potential killer.

The government has been pushing Muslim community leaders to keep an eye on their own community, and to restrain them from violence and excesses of any kind. But community leaders, as the government likes to describe them, seem not to be as widely respected as leaders as the government likes to think – they could not possibly, and they do not believe it is fair to be given such responsibility. “These days children do not listen to their own parents, why would an adult listen to some community leaders,” said the former councillor.

The more deeply troubling question is of the perceived provocation that one of the killers spoke of. Just about everyone would condemn this savage killing, and has. But there are many in Britain, and not just Muslims, who are concerned over British military intervention in other countries. And British forces do get associated with every excess committed through occupation – when drones kill, the British are seen as answerable as the Americans or anyone else. And a string of excesses have been linked to particularly British troops.

Many of those excesses are being dealt with by the government itself, and the country’s processes of law. The “eye for an eye” a killer spoke of is as primitively brutal as it gets. And now a whole community has to answer for someone’s insane anger.

Updated Date: May 23, 2013 17:26 PM

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