Report From London

tom aitkenFear in the Streets; Consternation in the Corridors of Power

By Tom Aitken

The attack on Drummer Lee Rigby as he returned to Woolwich Barracks last week was horrific.woolwich terrorism

It was also very puzzling. And it is having repercussions all over the country, which will affect a great many people apart from the attackers and their victim.

One of those repercussions may possibly give some grounds for hope for improvement in relations between Christianity and Islam within the United Kingdom.


Divided Reactions

That, if it happens, will only come, if at all, after a long period of face-to-face discussions. What is more obvious at the moment is that both sides are very divided about how to react and what best to do.

To recap briefly and at best approximately, what seems to have happened. In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said: ‘Mr Rigby was walking to the Royal Artillery barracks in Artillery Place… when he was struck by a blue Vauxhall Tigra… He was then attacked by two men’, who shot and hacked him to death.

Horrible enough, so far. What followed could have been equally so, but to an extent horror was averted .

The two attackers, both of whom had been brought up in Christian families in Nigeria and converted to Islam in their teens, having murdered their apparently randomly chosen victim made no attempt to escape.

Instead they hung about at the scene, during which time many mobile phone cameras were pointed at them, from close up in the street and the balconies of flats high above.

Michael Adebolajo had a longish talk with a most self-possessed young woman. We will doubtless hear more from her as the trial proceeds.

They had, it appears, set up the killing of a soldier principally in order to bring out the police so that they could shoot at them.

Police armed and ready

The police, however, were armed and clad for what they met. They disabled the gunmen and arrested them. The woman officer driving the police car was not armed and was lucky to emerge unhurt from the incident.

On 30th June, Adebolajo appeared before Westminster Magistrates’ Court. No pleas were entered but he was ordered to appear at the Old Bailey next week.

It remains the fact, however, that the attackers achieved their intended effect.

Once again tensions between migrants to Britain from former colonies, and British society and government have been ratcheted up, with knock-on effects in many departments of British life.

PM provokes outburst

Prime Minister David Cameron managed to provoke a hysterical outburst in the newspaper preferred by Tory ‘common readers’, the Daily Mail.

When news of the attack broke, Cameron broke of talks with President François Hollande in Paris and flew home. So far so good as far as the Mail was concerned.

Then he lost that approval by taking his family to Ibiza for a (presumably already planned) break.  The Mail proclaimed that even as Drummer Rigby’s family laid flowers at a memorial site in a public street in Woolwich, Mr Cameron was ‘chillaxing’ by a beach in Spain.

The Daily Mirror, possibly from a slightly different political perspective from that of the Mail, shouted that ‘Cameron ‘looks like he hasn’t a care in the world as the country he is meant to be running lies in the grip of terrorist turmoil.’

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper’ as a long-suffering newspaper editor tells his proprietor in Scoop, Evelyn Waugh’s 1938 satire on the English press.

From a purely personal perspective,I am not sorry to miss a Cameron announcement that he is being ‘very clear and determined in this matter’, as he is on many matters.

Leader of a ‘shaky’ coalition

These are often issues over which, as the leader of a shaky coalition, who is increasingly despised by his own right-winders inside and outside Parliament, he has no control.

But tastes differ. Others might have been comforted to hear from him.

Still to come: Anti-racism campaigners have warned us  of a ‘day of hate’ at the weekend as the English Defence League and the British National Party prepare for marches.

There has already been a marked increase in attacks of Muslim mosques and other sites since the Woolwich killing.

Since both far-right and Islamist groups feed off the alienated, violence seems likely to rumble on, at least until some other horror supervenes.

The Guardian’s view

In The Guardian, John Denham warned against ‘learning the wrong lessons from Labour’s attempt to tackle extremism.’ We need, he went on, to find ways of reducing support for extremism as well as striving to prevent extremist action.

‘The pattern’, he wrote, ‘is clear. Alienated, vulnerable young men gain status and self-respect in extremist groups. Through their impatience for change… they become murderers.

‘Woolwich appears to fit that pattern, but so too do the Norwegian neo-Nazi Anders Breivik and the 40 British far-right extremists convicted of terrorist and violent offences recently and over past decades.’

On the Muslim side, some of the so-called ‘hate preachers’ have continued to foment holy war.

But there are signs that some others are beginning to recognize that Muslims of goodwill cannot simply say that the violence is nothing to do with them and their religion. It would be pleasing if some of the more swivel-eyed Christian prophets would have similar second thoughts.