The images of a man with bloodied hands wielding a machete and a bread knife are as disturbing as those of a gang of balaclava clad hooligans fighting with police. Both embody the memory of a deeply horrifying story that shook me, and indeed British society, to the core.
One horribly predictable piece of the slowly forming jigsaw of Wednesday’s events was the use of the word ‘terror’. Even without going into the irony of British foreign policy or the actual definition of the word compared to the events it is commonly used to describe, a huge amount remains to be said. The term has taken on huge significance and a warped meaning in our own political language. Its application to any incident gives this event an entirely new dimension, one which guarantees it pride of place on every news channel, causing deep distress, and provoking a reaction that would otherwise have been avoided.
The use of the word ‘terror’ is the justification for the indignation which underlies an aggressive response, and is thereby counterproductive when seeking to combat any political aims that the perpetrators may have had. It is depressing but necessary to note the reason that Prime Minister, David Cameron, was ready to risk this consequence and indulge his irresistible desire to use the word ‘terror’; the revelation that the attackers had claimed to be acting in the name of Islam.
The doctrine of jihad cannot be disassociated with Islam. The jihad is an Islamic term encompassing the religious duty of Muslims and the jihad (“struggle”) with those who dismiss Allah in Islam. It is true that some Muslims perceive the war against such disbelievers, who are referred to as the kuffār, to be their duty but recent accusations of Islamophobia pointed at vocal atheists have gone too far. They represent what seems to be a common and unacceptable feeling among people of faith; that they have a right to remain unquestioned and unoffended. Yet it is absolutely imperative at this moment to show solidarity with Muslims, especially for those, like me, who usually prefer to question some aspects of faith. To use this as an opportunity to take shots at Islam is unforgivable, not to mention potentially useful to the true enemies of tolerance.
It was hugely upsetting to see that the Muslim Council of Britain felt pressured to condemn the barbaric murder committed on Wednesday and I sympathise with those who exercise their faith as a religion of peace. One thought-provoking analogy I saw suggested that the overwhelming majority of Muslims view those who commit this self-righteous violence in the name of their faith the way that the overwhelming majority of Christians view the Westboro Baptist Church and their disgusting practice of protesting at the funerals of homosexual men. It is useful to remember this comparison when considering the position of jihadists in their faith as a whole.
The most disturbing and upsetting of all of Wednesday’s stories and events was the reaction of the English Defence League (EDL). To hear reports of mosques being attacked and to see pictures of masked men, displaying the cross of St. George, fighting with police was genuinely frightening. It is also embarrassing to consider what the rest of the world must think of Britain when a group of nationalist thugs are running around in balaclavas, fuelled by alcohol, on a mission to recreate the Night of Broken Glass. Not only was the decision of EDL members to make their way to Woolwich on Wednesday evening hugely insensitive and grossly offensive, it was self-defeating; such a reaction merely serves to oblige those who commit political violence by giving their acts the recognition and impact that they crave.
Lastly, a note on the role of social media sites, which become hugely important in digesting such a tragedy, especially when living an otherwise sheltered life on a campus like here at Warwick. On Wednesday I could not help but despair at the otherwise marvellous democratisation of information and debate. Facebook and Twitter seem liable to transform into dangerous platforms for the propagation of intolerance and idiocy at any moment. It is very important to remember that these forms of media are taking on an ever-increasing role in the formation of a national consciousness and understanding of such an event. This is a worrying fact when considering the sheer volume of ignorant, aggressive, and often racist content that was around on Wednesday evening.