Woolwich: do you get it yet?

Drummer Lee Rigby, who was killed in a knife attack by two men in WoolwichHow much longer will you wait before speaking up?

I like this Voltaire quote: “Everything is fine today, that is our illusion”.

I don’t know exactly what Monsieur Voltaire meant by that, and I might be taking the quote out of context, but I’ve always assumed it was a worthwhile attempt to articulate that very human habit of burying your head in the sand until something is crawling up your doorstep posing an imminent threat to your own personal safety. This human trait has been demonstrated perfectly in the aftermath of “the Woolwich incident”.

Just in case you missed it, on 22 May 2013 “radicals” (radical what? Vegans?) beheaded a British soldier, Drummer Lee Rigby, with a machete in a London suburb in broad daylight.  The suspects chanted “Allahu Akbar” but this attack was nothing to do with Islam because, well, it just wasn’t. As we all know, Islam is a peaceful religion. In fact Islam is by definition not only peaceful but also perfect.

In years to come, assuming humanity steers a successful course through what is currently the gravest existential threat to its existence – political Islam – and humans can resume their comparatively trivial disagreements on mundane issues like how best to manage their planet’s finite resources, future generations of our species will look back on this period of history and ask, “How could they not see what was in front of them for so long? Why did they ignore the warnings?”

Warnings like this: refusing to speak honestly and frankly about religion and using a shameful lexicon of double-speak as cover for that refusal: sensitivity, respect, cohesion.

Warnings like this: making it socially unacceptable to criticise or even discuss religion. As Sam Harris has noted: “We have a choice. We have two options as human beings. We have a choice between conversation and war. That’s it. Conversation and violence. And faith is a conversation stopper.”

Warnings like this: listening and nodding meekly while our Prime Minister and then our Deputy Prime Minister tell us nothing in Islam justifies these attacks – unless you read the Koran. Of course, this doesn’t mean all Muslims agree with the undeniably violent messages in the Koran or even know they’re in there, but it does mean that Islam, like all religions, has a veritable suite of vile ideologies for its adherents to draw upon. Humans have a legal right and a moral duty to examine those ideologies fully. To say these attacks cannot be justified by Islam and to sneakily sand away the Koran’s many sharp edges hoping nobody will notice what you’re doing is intellectually and morally repugnant. The only difference between Islam and other religions is that other religions have generally been secularised and have lost their power.

Warnings like this: convincing yourself that the “challenging” passages in the Koran have to be read in context, but that the benign ones don’t.

Warnings like this: being petrified to speak openly about Muslim sex gangs targeting non-Muslims even when a presiding judge remarks that this “otherness” was a factor.

Warnings like this: having to be reminded time and time again by Muslim leaders in the aftermath of a terrorist atrocity how peaceful the underlying ideology that caused the atrocity is. If you need to keep convincing people your religion is peaceful, it ain’t.

Warnings like this: allowing multiculturalism to mutate into segregation and allowing blocks of humans defined solely by their skin colour or religion to be spoken for by useless, unelected leaders whose primary interest is their own personal status and power.

Warnings like this: closing your eyes and ears to what is happening behind virtual but impenetrable “community” gates, and refusing to condemn the oppression, misogyny, homophobia and sectarianism which deep in your heart you know is taking place.

Warnings like this: being shocked when people who are fed violent ideologies in a segregated vacuum, in a wider environment where it’s unacceptable to hold religious ideologies, institutions or leaders to account, suddenly and inexplicably become – surprise, surprise – violent. As Ed Norton’s character says in Fight Club, when he finds out recruits have been shot by police: “You’re running around in ski masks, blowing stuff up. What did you expect?”

Warnings like this: not only making it socially unacceptable to criticise religion but equating unflattering appraisal of religion with persecution of actual human beings.  Have a look at this BBC article by Catrin Nye the day after the Woolwich attack. The title of the article is “Rise in anti-Muslim attacks after Woolwich soldier killing”, but dig a bit deeper (i.e. read the article) and you see the report it refers to “documented 38 reports of anti-Muslim incidents – most of them online” and included “negative comments about Muslims”. The report also included real attacks, and I condemn those unequivocally, but placing negative online comments about Muslims in the same category as violence and threats of violence diminishes the seriousness of those real and appalling crimes – and it also discourages any meaningful, forensic analysis of root causes.

Warnings like this: demonising as aggressive, intolerant or “Islamophobic” the very people who often have the courage and calmness of mind to speak frankly about the dangers of giving ancient desert beliefs an elevated status: atheists and secularists.

Warnings like this: newspapers refusing to publish a cartoon – a cartoon – of a so-called prophet out of “respect”, when respect for these purposes is simply a more righteous alternative word to fear.

Warnings like this: refusing to condemn the barbarity that is sharia law for fear of being intolerant or racist.

Warnings like this: maintaining an ever so polite silence on systematic human rights abuses such as female genital mutilation and forced marriages.

Warnings like this: failing to grasp that being outraged at a beheading carried out in the middle of the day in London doesn’t mean you’re a racist or a supporter of the EDL. Did you know it’s possible to find beheadings objectionable AND to find opportunistic far-right anti-immigrant groups like the EDL and the BNP objectionable too?

Warnings like this: mentally torturing yourself to find a reason, any reason, for this – foreign policy, the EDL, the Jews, “Islamophobia”, police and intelligence failures – whilst not noticing or deliberately refusing to notice the oversized elephant in the room called “Islam”.

Warnings like this: doing everything to avoid causing “offence” but failing to appreciate that Islamists will always be offended. It’s what they do. Forget foreign policy, depictions of prophets or anything else. Islamists are offended by our way of life. They are offended by the very notion of freedom because of the priceless bounties it delivers and which threaten their power: free speech, free conscience, equality before the law.

To paraphrase Richard Feynman at the inquest in to the Challenger shuttle disaster, when he highlighted the brittle nature of the O-rings in extreme cold as the cause of the accident, I believe these all have some significance for our problem. What’s more, it’s perfectly possible and indeed absolutely essential to tackle this problem without infringing one single human right of one single Muslim. That means no discrimination, no intimidation, no threats, no violence, no arson attacks on mosques and nothing even remotely comparable.

I acknowledge the difficulties faced by many brave Muslims who wish to speak out or even leave their faith, and I acknowledge this is often accompanied by harassment and much worse. That’s all the more reason for those of us in a position to speak out to do so: to lay a path for them. But I still find it difficult to get misty-eyed when so-called moderate Muslim leaders and organisations summon the moral strength to condemn terrorist acts in the name of their religion unequivocally, as many finally seem to have done this time round. That’s a good start but remember, they’re simply saying a beheading is a bad thing. Is that really cause for everyone to be overjoyed?

Politicians can rush to assure us that those responsible will be brought to justice. That’s the very least we expect. But what we really want from our leaders is a willingness to be honest about the cause of this Stone Age madness. The cause is religious power and religious privilege generally, in all its forms, but especially in the context of Islam.

We can ignore all these warnings and refuse to challenge religious power, but in that case we’ll just have to get used to beheadings and other medieval acts on our streets on an increasingly regular basis.

Forget T-shirts, donations and warm words for just one second. You owe it to Drummer Rigby to acknowledge the real problem here. You also owe it to your own intellect – assuming you have any.

Do you get it yet? Or perhaps you would rather wait for some more warnings.