After Woolwich: Status Quo, or UK Reconsidering Islamist Threat?

Even more so than with previous acts of Islamist terror, the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in London last week was intended to shock and outrage the British people, to provoke a backlash against Muslims the attackers hoped would start the inter-communal violence Islamists have fomented across the Middle East and elsewhere. As one of the killers told Cub Scout leader Ingrid Loyau-Kennett when she bravely confronted them: “We want to start a war in London tonight.”

So far, however, the backlash has been little more than a spasm. In the most serious incident, two former soldiers were charged with trying to firebomb a mosque. There have been several other acts of vandalism against mosques, reports of Muslims being harassed in the streets, and marches by the racist soccer hooligans of the English Defence League. Meanwhile, two war memorials in London were defaced with Islamist graffiti.

Listening to the politicians, community leaders, and certain media outlets, you’d think the threat posed by the Woolwich attack to “community cohesion” -- an abstraction that Britain’s political elites spend much of their time fretting about these days -- was of more concern to them than the attack itself.

Beyond the condemnation of Drummer Rigby’s murder, two themes have dominated the official response. The first: an insistence that the attack had little, if anything, to do with “real” or “true” Islam. Prime Minister David Cameron called the killing “a betrayal of Islam,” and added: "There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act."

The second theme: the ideology of the killers is shared by only a handful of extremists. To this end, politicians have been showering praise on moderate Muslim leaders for condemning the killings without reservation.

Both of these claims are dishonest and dangerous. That expressions of condemnation from British Muslims for the beheading of a British soldier have been greeted with a mixture of relief and gratitude tells much about the poverty of the debate over Islamic extremism here.

The greatest threat to “community cohesion” is the denial of the obvious: while most British Muslims were appalled by last week’s killing, the killing did in fact have a great deal to do with a particular ideology, one shared to some degree by many thousands of British Muslims and tens of millions of Muslims around the world.

Listening to Cameron and others, it was remarkable to see how many white, Christian, or atheist politicians fancy themselves scholars of Islam -- they feel qualified to divine the “true” version of the religion from “perverted” forms.

As much as they might want to believe otherwise, there's no objectively “true” interpretation of Islam, in Britain or anywhere else. As Douglas Murray writes in the Spectator: since Islam’s founding, a battle has raged “between those who read their religion literally and those who read it metaphorically.” The violent extremists make a plausible case that peace-loving co-religionists are perverting Islam.

In their eagerness to absolve Islam of any responsibility for the Woolwich atrocity, British Muslims, sympathetic media commentators, and nervous politicians have been quoting verse 5:32 of the Koran until they’re blue in the face.

The extract they like to cite:

Whosoever killeth a human being … it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.

Note the ellipsis after “ human being.” It’s there because the writer or speaker invariably removes this section of the verse -- a rather important one.

The unabridged passage:

Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind.

At his site Jihad Watch, PJ Media contributor Robert Spencer caught Mehdi Hasan, a left-wing journalist and a Muslim, trying this same ruse.

For a more detailed analysis of verse 5:32, see this post. The author notes that, far from being an injunction against murder, the verse “grants Muslims license to kill non-Muslims under a surprisingly broad range of circumstances.”

You don’t have to look far to find other Koranic exhortations to murder: the Verse of the Sword, depending on the translation, commands believers to “slay the infidels wherever you find them.”

Of course, most Muslims are not driven to kill by verse 5:32, any more than Christians feel the urge to pluck their eye out because it has caused them to sin. But you only have to look to the Middle East and to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where every month hundreds of Muslims are murdered by other Muslims for religious reasons. Or to Africa, where thousands of Christians have been killed by Muslims recent years. Or consult the latest Pew poll on Muslim attitudes which found large majorities in several Islamic countries favoring the death penalty for apostasy. And consider the thousands of ”honor” killings carried out by Muslims every year. Killing in the name of Islam is perfectly acceptable to a considerable minority of Muslims, at the very least. It’s hard to plausibly argue that the brutal killing in Woolwich runs counter to Islamic teachings.

And what, for that matter, of the millions more Muslims worldwide who might be sincerely opposed to violence, but who see nothing wrong with women being treated as second-class citizens? Or who practice or condone female genital mutilation or forced marriage? Have they too strayed from the “true” path of Islam?

As for that claim that terrorist attacks are supported by only a tiny minority of British Muslims: according to the intelligence service MI5, 312 people were convicted of offenses related to Islamist terrorism between September 11, 2001, and September 30, 2012; to that number you can add 24 Muslims who have been convicted this year in connection with four separate plots, among the dozens foiled in recent years. The security services say “thousands” of suspects are being monitored, and hundreds of British Muslims have gone to train in terrorist camps overseas, or to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Also, opinion polls have shown that more than a tiny minority of British Muslims are sympathetic to terror attacks in the UK.