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.
Some commentators have pointed out that Islamist terrorism remains a rarity in the UK; Drummer Rigby’s killing was indeed the first jihadist murder in London since the 7/7 subway and bus bombings in 2005. However, if on other occasions the security services had dropped the ball as they did with the Woolwich killers (both men were known to MI5; one was arrested in Kenya in 2010 on suspicion of attempting to join Islamist fighters in Somalia), we could have been talking about several dozen more Britons killed in attacks in the past few years.
After the 7/7 attacks, the then-Labour government launched a series of initiatives to counter Islamic extremism and the radicalization of young Muslims in mosques, universities, and prisons. But little if any progress has been made. A mishmash of often contradictory programs has failed to distinguish between genuinely moderate Muslim organizations and those that are interested only in grievance-mongering, or are merely fronts for more radical groups.
Meanwhile, every proposal to introduce new anti-terrorism measures is met with resistance from left-wing and libertarian politicians, civil liberties groups, and human rights lawyers. Attempts to deport foreign-born hate preachers such as the notorious Abu Qatada and other terror suspects have been thwarted by judges sitting not in Britain, but in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. (The UK did manage to deport another extremist cleric, Abu Hamza, after a lengthy legal battle, and he’s now America’s problem.)
While attacks such as last week's are the most visible and extreme manifestation of Islamism in Britain, focusing only on terrorism steers the debate away from more widespread and insidious problems with sections of the Muslim community.
Last year I wrote about the horrific case of young girls being raped and abused by gangs of Pakistani Muslim men. Several men have since been jailed over similar “grooming” cases, and more cases are being investigated. Earlier this year I wrote about Muslim gangs patrolling the streets of London to threaten homosexuals, to harass people for drinking alcohol, and to harass women for being “inappropriately” dressed. Several opinion polls have found large numbers of Muslims in favor of sharia law being introduced in Britain, and underground sharia courts are operating in several British cities.
So: we have a tiny minority of jihadists, another tiny minority of honor killers, another of thugs enforcing Islamic diktats on the streets, and so on. When you add all these tiny minorities together, you end up with a rather large minority. For every Islamist who wants to kill people, there are thousands more who display open contempt for British society and its values of equality and tolerance. If these everyday acts of extremism aren’t tackled, Muslims of all persuasions will become increasingly disconnected from the rest of society, allowing the most dangerous forms of radicalism to flourish.
If politicians, moderate Muslims, and other influential figures don’t loudly and repeatedly condemn every kind of extremism, the problems will only get worse. Britain’s Muslim population is approaching three million -- or five percent of the kingdom. On current trends it’s expected to double within 20 years, with Islam expected to overtake Christianity as the UK’s dominant religion within ten. Around one in ten Britons under the age of 25 is Muslim, and extremist views are more prevalent among young Muslims than among Muslims as a whole.
But there’s no sign that things are about to change. For all the stirring words in the past week, you get the impression that as long as Islamist terror attacks remain a rarity, Britain’s political elites and the broader liberal-left establishment are happy to put up with a little extremism in order not to jeopardize the greater multicultural project.
After all, the sons of politicians don’t have to take their lives in their hands traveling on public transport through immigrant ghettos, and the daughters of well-off civil liberties campaigners and human rights lawyers are in no danger of being “groomed” by gangs of Muslim men.
Eventually, the killers will get through again. And, just as they did last week, the British public will lay flowers, and politicians will vow that the extremists will never win -- and then we’ll go back to avoiding the issues. What the politicians don’t seem to understand is that the Islamists’ definition of winning is different than ours -- in the absence of an outright victory over their enemies, they’ll settle for a few more decades of bloodshed and strife. It’s true that they won’t win, but there’s no sign of them losing.