Interpreting events in Woolwich
Yesterday's murder of a soldier in Woolwich has been covered by this morning's newspapers and last night's TV news in graphic detail. It has been presented as a 'terrorist attack' with an Islamist motive. Easy as that - an interpretation that allows for a neat headline. But far too neat and easy.
The apparent perpetrator who spoke of murders being carried out in his 'own country' whilst speaking with a south London accent; his desire to be filmed to allow his criminal actions and twisted political message to be placed on social media; the complete disconnection with the man he butchered and brutalized. This is the work of someone radicalized and brainwashed by internet sites that will now praise his actions.
Nick Baines has blogged this morning as follows: (you can read the whole thing here)
The labels we attach, the language we use and the framework within which we understand such phenomena are shaped by the unarticulated assumptions we bring. Does anyone seriously think these guys are motivated by Islam any more than the Provisional IRA or the UDA were motivated by a rational reading of the Gospels?
The attack happened in Woolwich as I was visiting houses in Woodmansterne as part of our prayer walk. I posted an invitation through the door of one home without knowing the resident was a Muslim and, later in the day, received an email reply from him. :
My prayers always ask the Almighty to help us ... fulfil our obligations to both Him and to all our fellow human beings irrespective of which scripture we subscribe to.
Events such as those which have unfolded today in Woolwich, are horrific, contemptible and contrary to all holy scriptures including ours, and our prayers go to the victim and the families whose suffering we cannot even begin to imagine. I have in the past discussed similar events/issues with Barry Goodwin and Bishop Nick (when both were active in Croydon) and with Rowan Williams during his tenure at Lambeth Palace, and I am always encouraged at the extent of our unity in the acknowledgement of humanity and kindness towards others irrespective of colour or creed.
It is too easy to point the finger of blame at a particular group, when the real issue is a shared one. There are huge risks if this is wrongly interpreted and presented in the media and in our own communities. Witness the actions of a few right wing reactionaries in Woolwich last night.
What can we do?
Refuse to accept easy but ultimately incorrect and dangerous interpretations presented by much of the popular press.
More positively, take opportunities to be peacemakers where we can - I plan to read out the email from our Muslim parishioner at Sunday's service (at his request).
And pray. The real hope for our world lies in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.