'Tell Mama' - the hotline to report anti-Muslim hate crime has documented a large increase in rerports in the week since Woolwich: from around four-five a day to more like 40. I would rather it were none, of course, but it should not cause for panic: the UK is in fact a remarkably tolerant country.
Let's not forget, a soldier has been brutally butchered on a busy road by a main claiming to be acting on behalf of his religion. Plenty of people are rightly horrified and angry - and some of them want some kind of revenge. A spike in repraisal attacks is, unfortunately, usual. A recent US study looked at 500 cases of terrorism found a significant spike in activity after a terror act, most pronounced if the attack was carried out by Jihadists against a symbol of national identity. Following 7/7, there was an equally large rise in hate crime for during July - and this was before social media lowered the bar for participation. (Many of the reports to Tell Mama have been social media abuse - something we barely had in 2005).
But this is a tiny minority in an otherwise remarkably tolerant country. Over the five-year period from 2006-7 to 2010-11, there was a 26 per cent fall in the number of racially or religiously aggravated offences in England and Wales. However you cut those figures, it's a sharp decline. The UK is very concerned about immigration - little doubt about that - but this is not the same as dislike toward immigrants or Muslims. A 2011 survey by Pew found that the UK (despite being very worried by Islamist extremism) had the most favourable attitude toward Muslims in Europe and other surveys have found younger people are even more tolerant.
And there is more. The World Values Survey's most recent results (2008, admittedly) found the same thing: the vast majority of UK citizens (once again, placing up near the top of the EU charts) would be comfortable with a someone from a religious minority being Prime Minister. That same study found that, in 2000, 14% of UK citizens would not want to have Muslims as neighbours, which made us the most relaxed in Europe bar the French. Eight years on - after 7/7, 21/7, the 2006 Atlantic plot, endless images of Omar Barki, Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada - that figure had fallen to 13%. I do not think these events will knock us off that course.
Of course, the country must be eternally vigilant against crimes against minorities, especially acts of reprisal and retaliation. As I've argued elsewhere, there is a real threat of Islamists and far-right activists feeding a cycle of mutually reinforcing violence. But it would be terrible to allow extremists to portray the UK as an anti-Islamic country, feeding the 'us and them' narrative. It is simply not the case.
Tell Mama has been inundated with calls; but it received many more denouncing the attacks. It is equally true that groups like the EDL need to know the feeling is mutual: surveys have found British Muslims are the most patriotic group in the UK. In that, something positive thing may come out of this awful event.
Whether you like it or or not, for a lot of people media reports of extremists is all they see of Islam. But for the last week, we've seen a far more accurate representation of British Islam on our TV: the likes of Maajid Nawaz, Mehdi Hasan, or Usama Butt (and yes, a tiny bit of Anjem Choudhury too). Britain isn't about to spiral down a rabbit hole of mutual hate.Suggest a correction