Thursday, 30 May 2013

Reflections on the Woolwich attack

Slightly over a week has passed since the shocking attack on a British soldier in Woolwich. Since then, tributes to Lee Rigby have poured in. Forces charities have reported massive increases in donations. We have seen solidarity against terrorism across the length and breadth of British society.

Alas, a darker response to this terrorist attack has already been felt. On the evening of the day of the attack, the English Defence League clashed with police as it attempted to demonstrate against the perpetrators. In the following days, mosques were vandalised; there were attacks on Muslims; bitter posts on social networking sites led to arrests; and a mosque in Grimsby was even bombed.

This anti-Muslim backlash is terrorism in its own right, and what is truly galling is the justification given for Islamophobia: Islam, it is so often claimed by those of a far-right persuasion, is unique among religions in that it still seeks to force its beliefs on others. Never mind that the Muslim Council of Britain condemned the attack "unreservedly". Never mind that the head of the Ramadhan Foundation, Mohammed Shafiq, also condemned the attack. Never mind that the director of Faith Matters, associated with Hope not Hate, stated: "we, as the Muslim community, will work against anyone who promotes such hatred." Never mind that journalists in the Islamic world condemned the attack, and that a Jordanian journalist said that the attack "deformed the image of Islam". Never mind that the family of one of the suspects, Michael Adebojalo, condemned his actions and all religious violence.

No, never mind any of that, thunders the far-right. Islam is a  "backward seventh century desert ideology" (in the words of Douglas Murray) that it inherently violent and expansionary. Modern, liberal, democratic Westerners, of course, are totally unlike this. We would never seek to enforce our views on a different and probably-unwilling culture.

Wouldn't we?

There is a religion the West seeks to impose. There is a faith that all Westerners hold and almost without exception, all of them would agree that violence is justified in the defence of this faith. A minority advocate violence to spread this faith, and even those who do not still haughtily claim that those who do not yet follow this faith will adopt it sooner or later, bringing the world under one religion.

We call this faith liberal democracy and free market capitalism. Our holy books are the Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution and The Wealth of Nations. Our priests are politicians, journalists, and businessmen. Our temples are our legislatures, polling stations, and shopping centres. The faithful humbly march to these shrines to partake in the benefits of the faith.

Now, how many of us would not claim that violence is justified to defend our right to vote, to speak freely, to buy mass produced rubbish cheaply, should someone try to take these from us? How many would stand idly by if our "inalienable rights" are infringed, even if all we do is post an angry Facebook status? How many of us would not claim that there are benefits to democratic, capitalist societies? And how many of us would not say that everyone deserves to partake in these benefits, and ultimately, everyone will come round to adopting this creed?

Really, how different are Westerners to those Muslims they claim to be expansionist and dogmatic? Just as Westerners derive temporal benefit from capitalist democracy, Muslims derive spiritual benefit from Islam, and so both believe that others need to adopt their way of thinking. After all, everyone should want these benefits. The sole difference between us is that because democratic capitalism is the faith we follow, then it must be the correct one.

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