After Woolwich – Stand together against the politics of hate

Michael Calderbank says nothing excuses the Woolwich killing - but the hands of our political classes are no less besmirched with blood
23 May 2013

The brutal killing of a young man yesterday afternoon in Woolwich, South London, was made all the more shocking by the apparent lucidity of one of the attackers, who was filmed launching into a 'justification' of the act whilst still brandishing a meat cleaver and covered in the blood of his victim.

Nothing whatsoever can excuse this murderous act. But the immediate attempts to appropriate the incident - whether as evidence of the 'evil' hatred of Muslims in general towards the West, as yet more evidence of how we should be grateful to our 'heroes' for their sacrifice in fending off this existential threat, or as part of a concerted terrorist plot requiring an immediate security clampdown - are both unwarranted and dangerous.

Thankfully, this kind of brutal episode is rarely seen on British streets (although acts of apparently random extreme violence are less uncommon than we might imagine). But for British troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, violence and suffering has been an unavoidable part of their lives, whether as victims of insurgent attacks, or as perpetrators of brutality towards the people whose countries they have been sent to occupy by military force.

The involvement of British troops in the torture and death of Iraqi civilian Baha Mousa, or in the mass slaughter in Fallujah, or the systematic brutality dished out to the people of Afghanistan over the course of an occupation now in its 12th year, demonstrates that the hands of our political classes are no less besmirched with blood than the Woolwich killers. This obviously criminal act cannot be a green light for Britain to intensify its criminal foreign policy any further. It’s time to break from this cycle of violence, end the occupation of Afghanistan, and bring the troops home.

Needless to say, this is hardly the lesson the far-right Islamophobes of the English Defence League want us to draw. They immediately latched on to the incident by attempting to stoke hatred and fear of all Muslims, despite the obvious revulsion with which Muslims up and down the country greeted news of the attack. To suggest that the killers were representative of all Muslims is akin to suggesting that racist Norweigan mass-murderer Anders Breivik is typical of all Christians or all white people. Palpable nonsense, but the kind of dangerous rhetoric that has already led to reported attacks on mosques.

We need to reject extreme reactionary politics, whether Islamist or Islamophobe, isolate the fanatics whatever their ethnic backgrounds, bring criminals to justice, and defy those who - like the Woolwich killers - would see us further ratchet up the violence, fear and hatred.

Michael Calderbank is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. He is also a parliamentary researcher for a group of trade unions.


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Gary 25 May 2013, 20.08

All to easy to write about how the EDL are making political capital out of Lee Rigby’s murder.

Anyone can do that.

When are we going to see an article about the islamists?

We will not because everyone is scared.

Dave Lawrence 26 May 2013, 21.56

What is Gary talking about. The media is full of analysis of Islamist groups and has been for years. I am not aware of anyone being particularly scared of them. I am much more scared of the growth of movements like the EDL and even UKIP which pose a very real threat to this country and its communities.

Gary 28 May 2013, 16.20

I think you may find at least two articles out of a hundreds on this great site about the threat of islamists. One in 2006 and one in 2009. Now being that radical islam offers a significant threat to freedom for all individuals(especially women), don’t you find that a tad strange?

Will Podmore 6 June 2013, 14.26

Dave writes that UKIP poses ‘a very real threat to this country’.
Who’s scaremongering now?
UKIP backs the EU agenda of privatisation and public spending cuts. It opposes trade unions. It opposes renationalising our rail network. In all of these, UKIP policy is the same as the policies of the Conservatives, the LibDems and the Labour Party – in practice.
What is different then? Why is UKIP winning support, when the other parties are losing support?
Because it wants a referendum on the EU. This demand is not rightwing or leftwing. The RMT also calls for a referendum. This demand is just very popular – 70 per cent support – more support than any party has. It is also our democratic right. As Labour MP Jon Cruddas said in October 2011: “This is about democracy. This is about respecting the people. Successive generations have not had a say on the European debate. This will fester until a proper open discussion is allowed. If we do not have a real referendum then anger and resentment will grow.”

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