As the jury has just concluded the trial of Michael Adebowale and Adebolaje, we wanted to reflect on their actions and the impacts that they have had within our country. Apart from the brutal murder of a young man on the streets of our capital, these two young people attempted to influence and promote perceptions that the armed forces of our country were not only targets, but that the peace of our nation would not be restored until our armed forces withdrew from Muslim lands. Their world view was one seen through a brittle approach, of one where there was a clash of civilisations between Muslims and non-Muslims and where those who implemented the wishes of our parliamentarians were to be blamed. Adebowale and Adebolaje clearly did not believe that historical events are usually peppered with nuances and realities which do not suit their reality. Take for example references made by some extremists to the Iraq war as justification for their bombing campaigns. The narrative is that since Iraq was attacked, the unwritten covenant of not attacking our country in a trade-off for providing asylum was now off the table and that the State and its people were open to attack. Such a position takes no account of the fact that over 1 million people, Black and White, religious and non-religious, Muslim and non-Muslim marched through Whitehall and Parliament against the actions of Blair and his then Government. It also does not take into account that the State still continued to maintain the safety of the very individuals who were involved in promoting hate and agitation with our country. Even though the Iraq demonstrations did not change public opinion, the majority of the public were squarely against military action against Iraq and this position blows a hole in the arguments put forward by those seeking to promote a perpetual and constant war - an ongoing 'clash of civilisations.' These demonstrations showed that the British public were willing to exercise their right of dissent on a mass scale unseen before in our country.
These polar set of positions demonstrated by the Woolwich killers are also played out after the killing of drummer Lee Rigby. Both Adebowale and Adebolaje have talked about the killing of innocent civilians in Muslim lands by our armed forces. Their empathy extends this far and to the family of the murdered soldier, yet it does not relate to Lee who was so brutally murdered, nor to the hundreds of Muslims who were then subjected to an anti-Muslim backlash after Woolwich. It is though there is a complete denial, a complete void of responsibility as to the cause and effect from their actions. Furthermore, they would have known that their actions in broad daylight in the capital would mean that they would become central actors in those organisations, web-sites and movements who promote the 'clash of civilisations' theory from an anti-Muslim perspective. These so-called 'counter-Jihad' networks and organisations paint a dire picture of Muslims as being uni-dimensional and they are reductionist in their outlook on Muslim communities. What they attempt to do is to stoke up public perceptions of all Muslims as being irrational, aggressive, dangerous and untruthful. In essence, Adebowale and Adebolaje played right into their hands. The detached alien views of these two men simply re-enforced the detached alien views of these counter-jihadist networks that span from the US, through the UK and into Europe, and which are well funded and resourced.
After the murder of Lee, we were the first agency through the TELL MAMA project to realise that there was a sharp rise in anti-Muslim incidents and attacks, both on-line and off-line. What we have seen post Woolwich has been a series of attacks against mosques and Islamic institutions, (over 30 incidents ranging from graffiti through to terrorist bomb attacks on mosques in Tipton, Walsall and Birmingham), violent assaults on visible Muslims males and females and threats, abuse and hate targeted at Muslims in the on-line and off-line (street-based) world. Both men also must have known that their actions would have sparked a response towards Muslims and it is only because of the vast amount of work on cohesion done by the police, local authorities, civil society organisations and Government departments, that we as a country did not suffer a more violent set of repercussions.
Last week, a report was released from the Prime Minister's Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism entitled, "Tackling Extremism in the UK." There are two elements in the report that stand out. One is that anti-Muslim hatred is recognised as a driver for extremism and this underscores the importance of work like TELL MAMA. The second is a review of laws that can utilise ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) type legislation to keep extremists out of the areas which they are targeted. This recommendation came about after the activities of Anjem Choudhary's supporters who attacked two perceived Shia members of Muslim communities in Edgware Road earlier in the year. Anjem Choudhary has also been a regular in Westminster and this attack by his supporters has forced the local authority and the police to look at enacting such laws, which were requested by local traders in Edgware Road who happen to be Muslim. The review of such powers should be welcome and should also send a powerful message to Far Right extreme groups like the English Defence League who target Muslim communities and occasionally, businesses owned by Muslim proprietors. Both Far Right groups and those like Al-Muhajiroun should be put on notice that they will not be welcome in areas where they target certain groups and promote a sense of fear in these areas. If they do, not only will they be subject to a range of civil and criminal laws, they will also be liable to being excluded from specific areas for long period of times.
So, as we move into 2014, we hope that both Far Right and Al-Qaeda influenced groups and individuals realise that we collectively as communities, will not allow them to drive a wedge between us as residents and neighbours. Collectively, we can also counter their belief that a clash of civilisations is inevitable. It is not and we alone can prove them wrong.