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Woolwich, Murder and Justice

24/05/2013 12:11 BST | Updated 23/07/2013 10:12 BST

There's blood in the streets. I wish I had the command of language necessary to come up with a less clichéd phrase, but it really is there and it's spreading like a dark stain across every newspaper and out of every television screen. And people are standing up and spitting it back; some are even calling for more. In front of me is an endless Twitter feed variously filling up with messages of support, messages of shock and depressing vitriolic ignorance. Not everyone concurs with Lord Reid - "The dividing line is not between Islam and non-Islam, it is between the terrorists and everyone else." There are people tarring Muslims with the same brush as the murderers - and that is absolutely the appropriate word - people calling for the death penalty, for police to be armed, I've just seen a man tweet "send them home before British people rise up", as well as the usual liberal applications of the words "sick" and "evil".

No. It's not a time to call for more blood, or to scoop it out of the gutters and spread it around on other people. If you think you can, I would recommend watching the video taken of one of the murderers in which he outlines the reasons for the attack; it's spreading so fast I imagine it'll soon be a ringtone. He's so casual: it's not a spittle-flecked crazed rant like you might expect, he really believes he's justified in standing over the body of the soldier whose job it was to defend him and his home every night as he slept. The key words I want you to focus on are "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth".

I somewhat scornfully isolated the words "sick" and "evil" in quotation marks above because I don't usually like using them to describe the perpetrators of acts like this. Now don't mistake my meaning: I couldn't morally condemn them any more than I do now, and I would spit fire at anyone who tried to justify this murder with piss-weak rhetoric about foreign policy or cultural imperialism. But those words push people like him into a mental dustbin and stop us from realising what's most important: we can be like that if we aren't careful. Again, don't mistake my meaning: I'm not saying any one of us could hack a man to death in cold blood. But "an eye for an eye" is the way this man thinks, and if we don't carefully guard our response we could end up thinking it too. He didn't want justice, he wanted revenge, and that's what many people are calling for right now - the death penalty, mass deportation, reprisal violence on other British citizens who are unconnected to the crime - this is what he would do. This is how his tiny world works: you think someone has hurt you, you hurt them back.

Don't be like this man. Don't get up on the roof and ask for more blood, and think "an eye for an eye" is the appropriate response. Listen to what he says and think carefully to yourself about why he is wrong, about the hypocrisy, childish anger and stultifying Bronze Age mindset that he offers you instead of reason and moral consideration.

This next sentence might provoke some venomous responses, but it's necessary. This man is entitled to a fair trial. He has the right to be represented in court in front of a jury of his peers; he has the right to remain silent (though I strongly suspect he won't exercise it). His victim fought to defend those rights because that's how we show we're better than him. That's how we show that when we talk about justice and morality we mean it, all the time, with no exceptions and from a desire to bring about what is right rather than to exact revenge. Don't let the blame go to other Muslims who are just as outraged and shocked as you, don't listen to people howl for the death penalty so they can sit in sanctimonious grim silence as the verdict is read out, don't become the sort of brutish thug that thinks "an eye for an eye" is a just principle. Don't be like these men. We can defend the good by embodying it.