Woolwich Attack: Muslim Students' Anger At Media Demonising Islam Community

'We Should Not Have To Constantly Reaffirm Our Distance From Terrorism'

Muslim students have vented their frustration and anger over being "demonised" by the public and the media after two men, claiming to be Muslims, hacked a man to death in Woolwich.

"Muslims are often quick to jump onto social media to apologise and condemn the terrorist attacks," Areeb Ullah, of King's College London, says.

Blogging for HuffPost UK, the incoming vice president of academic affairs at KCL, wrote: "I disagree with [the Muslim Council of Britain] reaffirming the need to distance Islam's true teachings from the individual who attacked the soldier.

"Because frankly, Muslims do not need to have to reaffirm and clarify their faith in a way that creates the perception of them being inferior from British society."

After the horrific attack on Drummer Lee Rigby, several Muslim groups spoke out to condemn the killers. The Muslim Council of Britain released a statement on Thursday which read: "This is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and we condemn this unreservedly."

Ullah, who is also a member of the National Union of Student's black student campaign, adds: "Why do Muslims who were born and raised in this country feel the need to reaffirm their faith's stance on terrorism? You'd imagine after more than a decade since 9/11, individuals have come to the realisation that the acts of a minority doesn't represent the majority."

Omar Ali, president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), told HuffPost UK: "I think [Ullah] raises a good point - we shouldn't have to feel the need to distance ourselves from such acts as they are inherently opposed to our faith and work which encompasses the beliefs of the vast majority of Muslims (probably 99.99%).

"When other murderers or criminals commit atrocities, churches/synagogues or particular communities from a particular race/ethnicity that the criminal 'belongs' to aren't expected to comment - a crime is a crime no matter who commits it."

But Ali added, due to rise of Islamophobia, there was a need to publicly clarify his organisation's stance to wider society.

"On the other hand, given the current rise of Islamophia and the way in which the far-right uses such terrible criminal acts of one 'Muslim' to fuel their narrative that Islam and all Muslim are poisonous, we then feel the need to comment on our stance publicly to give clarity to the wider British society."

Ullah is not alone in his anger at the reaction to Wednesday's attack. Minesh Parekh, a student at Sheffield University, said the attack was used to demonise Islam after the killers claimed their actions were in the name of Allah.

"If the circumstances were reversed, the men's religion and race would not have been mentioned whatsoever. If a white British citizen had killed someone with a machete, they wouldn’t be described as being 'of Christian appearance', and their race wouldn’t have been considered a factor."

Parekh refers to the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson, who apologised on Thursday after quoting a source which described the killers as being of "Muslim appearance".

"But because the men were Muslims, and because they aren’t white, the tragic event was referred to as a 'terrorist' attack by a man “of Muslim appearance” rather than being treated as an isolated incident in itself. What a 'Muslim appearance' is, I’m not really sure; it’s quite non-descript as a phrase, attempting to generalise the appearance of 1.4 billion ethnically diverse people."

In a press conference on Thursday, David Cameron described the attack as a "betrayal of Islam". On Wednesday evening, members of the English Defence League clashed with police in Woolwich. According to Essex Police, a 43-year-old man from Braintree was arrested on suspicion of attempted arson after walking into a mosque with a knife. More than 1,200 police have been deployed on the streets of London to protect mosques against revenge attacks.

Muslim students previously spoke to HuffPost UK at their anger about being demonised in the media after a study on gender segregation on campus by anti-extremism group Student Rights. The NUS dubbed the report a "witch hunt".

Mohamed Harrath, a student union executive at the London School of Economics, said: "Firstly, its important to point out that condemning an act doesn't equal apologising for it. Of course, Islam and Muslims are no more responsible for the criminal murder in Woolwich yesterday than any other Briton is.

"However, the truth is that the perpetrators of the attack, some parts of the mainstream press and a lot of people will establish a link between the murder yesterday and Islam/Muslims. If we stay quiet and don't say anything those links become entrenched, if we speak out and say we condemn this and it has nothing to do with us or our faith, we begin to challenge that narrative.

"Condemning [the killers], distancing our faith and its adherents from them and working to protect the community from anti-Muslim hate crimes are a crucial starting point."

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