Once again terror has visited our nation. Four were killed in Westminster yesterday, one of them a policeman, and one the terrorist. Many were injured, from many nations, several are in a critical condition. Eight have already been arrested, and the killer, now named as Khalid Masood seems to be known to the police. Much more will become known for sure. The police are treating it as "Islamic related terror." Isis are now claiming responsibility. What Khalid Masood's relation if any to them is we don't yet know.
Let's be clear, it is arguably possible to say the terror is "Islamic related", but it is not Islamic. Major bodies of Muslims have condemned what happened - the Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Society of Britain among them. Luton's two council of Mosques have a statement out as I knew they would.
I have heard nothing but grief, anger at what has happened, solidarity with the police, and total condemnation from Muslims.
(I'll try to write on my approach to this theme of the relationship of terrorism to Islam another time.)
Such moments as this bring out the best in people. Brendan Cox, whose MP wife Jo was killed by by a far right activist last year, has repeatedly led the nation by his example in his calm and thoughtful response to terror:
"What the terrorist would like to happen is for us to fall apart and start blaming groups of people, to say that in some way this is Muslim or Islam as a whole."
In refusing to respond to hate with more hate, but calling consistently for people to come together, he denies terror it's impetus to turn the wheel of vengeance one more time, so ramping up the conflict.
Sadly, we are also encountering the worst of people. Blame for the terror incident yesterday is already clear for many, and it lies with a religion, not a person. Yesterday several Luton Mosques were saying they'd already received hate mail. This morning there were reports of abuse to women taking children to school. More poison in the system.
A lot of that is as always now on social media. Stephen Lennon, aka "Tommy Robinson", founder of the English Defence League (EDL) and now freelance stirrer, managed to get to the scene of the atrocity in double quick time yesterday - just as he did after the killing of Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013. Online video and twitter outpourings from him as well as many on social media have sought to stir the divisions, repeating their narrative of a clash between Islam and the Christian West. Nigel Farage, former UKIP leader was clear where he placed the blame: "Frankly, if you open your door to uncontrolled immigration from Middle Eastern countries, you are inviting in terrorism." The US president managed to restrain himself from much comment though he did lay into London Mayor Sadiq Kahn.
At one point last evening it was rumoured the terrorist was Abu Izzadeen, well known member of al-Muhajiroun and associate of extremist preacher Anjem Choudary. (Rumours on social media then seemed to solidify on Channel 4 news, though by the end of the broadcast they were retreating on learning he was in prison.) Lennon has extensive form with both Choudary and especially his Luton group, led by Sayful Islam, so he was quick to cotton on to this and talk up how well known he was to the authorities, and his links in the Muslim community. When Izzadeen was removed from the frame he barely stopped. Guilt by association.
I can really only adequately speak for Luton on this, but for the past eight years, since EDL formed in response to protest by al-Muhajiroun against an army regiment's homecoming parade, the Luton Muslim community have done all they could to marginalise their influence. I have been participant and observer to that activity. The fact that is was only 2016 they were brought to trial and imprisoned for recruitment for ISIS lies with the police and Home Officer.
The Archbishop of Canterbury in the House of Lords this morning helped us frame the conflict differently. (Link). He called us to British values that come from a narrative that has been within our society for almost 2000 years.
“That speaks of – at this time of year as we look forward to Holy Week and Easter – of a God who stands with the suffering, and brings justice, and whose resurrection has given to believer and unbeliever the sense that where we do what is right; where we behave properly; where that generosity and extraordinary sense of duty that leads people to treat a terrorist is shown; where that bravery of someone like PC Keith Palmer is demonstrated, that there is a victory for what is right and good; over what is evil, despairing and bad. "
i trust we can resist the push to frame the conflict as between Islam and Christianity, but rather a peaceful vision for society supported by all of good will, Christian, Muslim, other faith or no faith, versus that of the terrorist, described by the Archbishop as a "perverted, nihilistic, despairing view of objectives of what life is about, of what society is about, that could only be fulfilled by death and destruction."