One year on from the Woolwich murder, Quilliam’s Senior Researcher in Islamic Studies Dr Usama Hasan reflects on the impact that this event has had on relations between different communities in the UK in Lapido Media.
The murder of Lee Rigby in London one year ago this week exacerbates the problem of Islamophobia, according to Quilliam senior researcher and part-time imam Dr Usama Hasan.
The hacking to death of British Army soldier Lee Rigby by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowaleon on 22 May 2013 was as shocking as 7/7 and ‘made a lot of people very angry,’ says Dr Hasan.
Based at the world’s first counter-extremism think tank, Quilliam, Dr Hasan believes Muslim community relations slowly improved after the 2005 London bombings, but the Woolwich attack crossed a ’red line’ and fuelled far right groups.
‘Islamophobia is on the increase in the UK. A lot of it is bigotry, prejudice and racism. No other religion faces the kind of abuse or vitriol you get in the comments section on articles on Islam in mainstream news sites such as The Telegraph and The Guardian.
‘Outside Regent’s Park Mosque on Good Friday there was a protest by Muslim extremists and a counter protest by the English Defence League and Britain First. There were lots of police and there were very angry scenes. Some of the EDL guys had flags saying “RIP Lee Rigby” so they are still using that as an issue.
‘It’s very wrong to tar all Muslims with the same brush and attack all Muslims, which is what the far right element do. That is Islamophobia. Collective punishment for the minority of extremists, even if the minority is quite vocal and organised, is wrong.’
But Dr Hasan also believes the attack woke people up to the serious nature of Islamism and the lengths extremists will go to for their cause.
‘Back in 2007, a Muslim in Birmingham (Parviz Khan) said British Muslim soldiers who serve in Afghanistan should be beheaded. That was brought home after Woolwich. Woolwich brought these issues to the forefront, which people often shy away from addressing because they’re so delicate and sensitive.
‘Formerly, if you told people that Muslim extremists are so opposed to British armed forces or even the idea of being British because they regard themselves as being Muslim only, and that they are willing to attack British soldiers in Britain, a lot of people would have said it’s all talk. It’s bravado. But the fact they carried it out shows it wasn’t scaremongering to talk about it beforehand.’
Dr Hasan says the Woolwich attacks made people face up to the issues of Islamism and terrorism and even one year on brings potential for confrontation.
‘Peacemaking is difficult and society in general shies away from difficult issues but once there’s blood on the streets, as there was in Woolwich, you can’t ignore it – it’s out in the open.’
Although Dr Hasan admits extremist groups are ‘strong and active’ he remains an optimist and points out that at least 35 major terrorist plots have been foiled since 9/11.
The researcher believes his religion is undergoing a reformation and says a contest for ‘the heart and soul of Islam’ is being fought.
Dr Hasan’s role at Quilliam is to develop Muslim discourse nationally and globally away from fundamentalist, literalist and extremist positions based on the Qur’an.
‘The extremists quote scripture all the time. I try and provide counter arguments also based on scripture and tradition and classical Sharia. There’s always been a wide range of views on these things and there isn’t one answer to everything.
‘I’m encouraged by the fact that so many who were Islamists, including myself from a teenager onwards, go through the process of breaking free from the shackles of fundamentalism. I’m confident we will be proved right but the Muslim discourse worldwide has been dominated by fundamentalism and Islamism.
‘There’s a very deep influence going back decades. Islamist groups tend to be the most organised and best funded. It will take time to undo all that and win the argument. I’m confident we will do it but in the meantime there is a battle.’
In related news, the authorities are refusing to allow a permanent memorial for Lee Rigby at the scene of the murder for fear it could ‘attract extremists’.
The decision, backed by local MP Nick Raynsford has been criticised and the council accused of implementing a double standard as they did allow the erection of a memorial to murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.
The two British Nigerians responsible for Lee Rigby’s death, Michael Adebolajo, 29 and Michael Adebowale, 22 were raised as Christians but converted to Islam in 2003.
Adebolajo was told he would spend the rest of his life in prison while the younger offender Adebowale was sentenced to a minimum of 45 years in prison.
Earlier this year Adebowale wrote from prison that, ‘I remain certain about my deeds being halal (permissible). Only Allah can judge me.’ In court he declared, ‘Britain and America will never be safe.’
Adebowale’s legal advisors are reportedly planning to appeal against the length of sentence.
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