The ‘guilty’ verdict has been delivered in the trial of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale for the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in May. An interview with the soldier’s parents has just been released in which they say that their son died in the cause of protecting the rights of our democracy, including the freedom of speech and the freedom to walk the streets in safety.
So it would do an injustice to the young man’s memory not to reflect on what has constituted an additional outrage and insult in this already horrific case.
Within hours of the murder of Drummer Rigby in May our Prime Minister, David Cameron, appeared on the steps of Downing Street and said that:
‘This was not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam and on the Muslim communities who give so much to this country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act.’
He then told the House of Commons:
‘It was a despicable attack on a British soldier who stood for our country and our way of life and it was too a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror.’
While it is absolutely right to ensure that nobody thinks that Muslims as a whole should be blamed for the actions of two extremists, David Cameron is completely wrong in what else he said.
In making wilfully misguided theological pronouncements about Islam Mr Cameron probably thinks that he is helping matters. But he is not. In fact such statements almost certainly make matters far worse – only widening the growing divide between what politicians like David Cameron would like us to think and what the rest of us can all see with our own eyes.
Even if we, the general public, had all had our eyes closed before last May, in the months since the attack in Woolwich we have all been able to read our papers and watch our televisions. We all saw the front-pages of these machete-wielding men, hands covered in blood, shouting about Allah and quoting the Quran. In the months since, we have all been able to hear about their defence in court.
We can all read the headlines only a few days ago in which one of the killers – Michael Adebolajo – said:
‘I killed Lee Rigby because I am a soldier of Allah’.
We can also read the note to his children which Adebolajo gave to a passerby and which came up in court:
‘Know that to fight Allah’s enemies is an obligation… Do not spend your days in endless dispute with the cowardly and foolish if it means it will delay you meeting Allah’s enemies on the battlefield.’
Today and tomorrow people will read of the defendants carrying and kissing their Qurans as they were sentenced. Mr Cameron may think the killing had nothing to do with Islam but Michael Adebolajo – who was not deemed insane, and was deemed fit to stand trial – certainly believed it had to do with Islam. And therein lies a problem which Mr Cameron and the political class that thinks like him must one day confront.
Far from having nothing to do with Islam, the killing of Lee Rigby had everything to do with Islam – the worst possible version of Islam, certainly, but a version of Islam nonetheless. And although it may not be the version that most Muslims worldwide follow, let alone practise, it is one with a considerable and bloody presence – across the Indian sub-continent, the Middle East, North Africa and now in Europe.
If we had responsible public debate it would focus on identifying and stopping those Islamists who are able to recruit people like Adebolajo into their ranks. It would ask why the rhetoric of ‘our lands’ and ‘their lands’ ever entered the lexicon of citizens of our country. It would ask who Adebolajo and Adebowale were listening to when they came to the impression that British troops wilfully murder Muslims abroad. How fringe is that type of rhetoric? Not very. How many people make a wilful effort to correct it – to point out that British troops saved Muslims from ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and spent the best part of a decade trying to stop Muslims killing other Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq? Very few in my experience, preferring to push the lazy and bigoted narrative of a British army ‘at war with Muslims’.
As I say – the murder of Drummer Rigby had everything to do with Islam: a nasty, bigoted, backward version of Islam to be sure, but a version of Islam nonetheless. And it is not only misguided but in the long-term deeply counter-productive for politicians to pretend otherwise. Opinion polls show that publics across Europe are coming to their own views about Islam. If our government were to be productive in this debate it would make clear what we are actually dealing with. They, the media and everyone else would also insist on a far higher bar for acceptability for Muslim spokespeople than merely ‘condemning’ beheadings. They would be challenged on what they are doing to stop such actions as well as the rhetoric and taught bigotry which leads to them. In other words government and everyone else – instead of tip-toeing around the facts or actually lying about them – would deal with them, knowing that doing so is the only way possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.Tags: David Cameron, Islam, Islamism, Lee Rigby