Woolwich: The counter narrative

The unfolding of events in Woolwich today leaves a deep melancholy in my heart. Even now, hours after the event, confirmed facts are desperately hard to come by – aside from the unthinkable horror of an attack upon and killing of a man by two other armed men. It was Churchill who said:

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on
If this was a truism in Churchill’s day, it is even more so in an age when social media – Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and the like – can be used to drip-feed tiny slivers of information, half-truths and outright lies which the facts struggle to overcome. Serious and lasting damage can be done to both individuals and entire communities before they have even been given a chance to process what on earth is happening.

I watched 9/11 and it’s aftermath unfold on my TV screen, and I was in London on 7/7 and am thankful I may well have barely missed being caught on the underground during the bombing. Though I didn’t want to jump to conclusions on the events in Woolwich, as I kept refreshing Twitter, my heart sank with that familiar “… Oh no, not again!” feeling.

In amongst speculation about the events I was touched that a recurring theme across my timeline was the abhorrence expressed by non-Muslims at comments made on the BBC by veteran reporter Nick Robinson to the effect that the attackers had a “Muslim appearance”. Robinson has since sought to explain this by claiming that he was simply quoting a source. Regardless of where he got that information, it’s not the sort of thing that should be presented as a matter of fact. Robinson could have tweaked the quote to say “possible” or “suspected” Muslims. To regurgitate a quote so self-obviously distasteful was unwise, to say the least.

Whilst It’s heartening to see a great many people call Nick Robinson out on his gaffe, it’s dissapointing at the same time to realise that there is no true mainstream representative of Islam as many Muslims understand it to be. Though there are a number organisations that claim to represent Muslims, it’s difficult to actually find one that can muster a decent media pundit to speak on our behalf and that I would be happy to be associated with.

The debate seems now to have turned to the need for “leadership” within the Muslim community in order to mount an effective counter-narrative against the seemingly pervasive fear of Muslims and Islam in general. But the truth is what ‘leadership’ there is within the Muslim community is patently powerless to project a voice at the national level.

It’s ironic that I’m happy to be associated with a political party rammed full of atheists and non-Muslims in general, and I relate to Liberal Democrat ideals at a political level, but can find no such mainstream group to speak to my religious views.

The video that shows one of the Woolwich attackers explaining his motives – as an apparent Muslim – in terms of “an eye for an eye” motive against the UK Government for who knows what imagined or real grievances is just the latest link in a long chain of disproportionate media frenzies that obliges the Muslim community to apologise and somehow atone for collectively in a way that no other group seems required to do. Muslims are left to state as individuals that random attacks and murder are not called for within Islam, and that to say they are is a gross distortion and abuse of Islam.

But whilst the truth is busy getting it’s pants on, Woolwich has fallen prey to another type of extremism as the EDL apparently needed containing by the riot police. This is a most unwelcome escalation of tension within Woolwich which adds nothing positive to the situation and is in fact an act directed by an organised group with identifiable leaders who, something tells me, will not be placed under any discernable mainstream pressure to denounce any members of their group who tonight have attacked mosques and caused Sikhs to worry about their gurdwaras.

Of course what happened in Woolwich was the work of people who are not right in their minds, let alone their theological conclusions. And yes, the vast majority of Muslims will rightfully be shocked at this brutal act of heartless insanity, and they will disagree vehemently with the very idea of a cold-blooded and random killing of a man on the street, be he a soldier or not.

A thoughtful Muslim counter-narrative is occasionally glimpsed through the lens of mainstream media hype during a chaotic event like Woolwich, but you can be sure we won’t be hearing much from the Muslim community on any hot issue of the moment until the next time some poor sap is wheeled out to self-flagellate and re-iterate once more that right-thinking Muslims don’t agree with acts of terrorism.

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