How We Should Not Respond To The Woolwich Terrorist Attack

It seems today that two Muslims have beheaded, or at least attempted to behead, a British soldier in broad daylight on a busy south London road, only a few yards from his army barracks.  As the perpetrators clearly wanted to die as part of their awful act, an effective security response is difficult to imagine – perhaps scrutiny of their digital life will unveil some worthwhile follow ups.  For now, I’m a little more concerned with what we shouldn’t do.

Firstly, condemning all Muslims is phenomenally misguided.  There are quite clearly many good Muslims who feel unable to escape the faith because of family pressures (I know some people who fall into this category), or who are simply unable to face the world without the structure a religious life provides – but who genuinely and wholeheartedly condemn this attack and are kind people in every aspect of their life.  Doubtless there are even some Muslims who may appear devout but actually this only relates to the spiritual element of Islam.  One of the biggest problems security experts face around the world is trying to spot the suicide attacker against this backdrop.  Whilst this observation does provide the foundation for an argument against the harmlessness of moderate religion, what it certainly doesn’t do is provide reasons to express hatred of all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world or to go out onto the streets and begin randomly attacking mosques (as appears to already be happening around the country).

Secondly, we mustn’t allow the enthusiasm of Muslim spokesmen, and misguided liberals, to hijack these events.  Let’s be clear; this attack was inspired by religious hatred and it can be justified by Islamic doctrine.  Here are a few verses from the Quran to get us started:

(2:190-93) Slay them wherever you find them…idolatry is worse than carnage….fight against them until idolatry is no more and God’s religion reigns supreme.

(3:156) If you die in the cause of God, his mercy would surely be greater than all the riches they (the infidel) amass

(3:195-96) Those who suffered for My sake and were slain – I shall admit them to gardens watered by running streams as reward

All the while that Muslim spokesmen and theologians fail to acknowledge the awful moral messages (to say nothing of the terrible science) contained within the Quran and the Hadiths, and so fail to implore Muslims to read the Quran critically as a book that may contain errors, then they are neglecting their responsibilities and they are letting down this and the next generation of Muslims.  Sitting in front of a camera and saying that this type of incident does not represent Islam and that Islam is a religion of peace is nowhere near enough – in fact, as it fails to address the main issues, it doesn’t even count as a start.

On a related point, it is not true to say that the problem is with only a tiny minority – unless you think that a problem only exists at the moment a successful attack takes place.  Study after study shows that almost every Muslim believes that a woman must obey her husband at all times and that homosexual behaviour is immoral.  Meanwhile, well over 100 million globally appear to support suicide bombing, as was most recently reported by Pew and highlighted in another recent post of my own.  These attitudes are well below the curve with regards to what is morally acceptable in the developed world in the 21st century.  And they are at the heart of this conflict.  Muslim spokesmen must start telling the truth about this.  They must say that Islamic teachings have been wrong on these issues.  Only then will we begin to see progress.  Continuing to deny any connection between terrorist attacks and Islamic doctrine and failing to acknowledge that the Quran is not the unalterable word of Allah, will have the same effect it has always had over the past 1400 years.  No effect whatsoever.

Finally we must not allow this event to weaken our resolve.  It is not a further reason to get out of Afghanistan, Iraq and so on.  It is another reason to stay.  Whatever your views on, say drone strikes for example, we should be very clear about the intentions of these compared to what happened today or recently in Boston, USA, when considering the relative moral implications.  A perfect drone strike takes out a military target and kills no one.  A perfect suicide attack intentionally kills innocent non-combatants, often in large numbers and usually including women and children.  Intentions matter.  Western liberals should be confident enough to believe our way of life is not just different, but better.  We should care enough to want to actively encourage it elsewhere.  And we should be ambitious enough to believe we can.