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Anger, debate and fear in the UK after Woolwich attack

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Anger, debate and fear in the UK after Woolwich attack


The murder of a soldier in Woolwich has already sparked a sequence of worrying and violent reactions in the United Kingdom.

Hours after the brutal killing, members of the English Defense League (EDL) told followers to “take to the streets” and declared “we are at war” via their website. In less than 24 hours the organisation saw the number of its Facebook followers triple.

The EDL calls itself an inclusive group that protests against Islamic “extremism” but in an online statement it broadened this criteria, saying “we must criticise the Muslim community’s failure to deal with the extremists” and added “we must criticise the self-segregation of certain sections of the Muslim community”. Just hours after the Woolwich attack around 100 members of the EDL clashed with riot police in the streets.

Elsewhere in the UK, two other people were arrested in connection with separate attacks on mosques. In Kent, police were called to a report of criminal damage, while in Essex a man is reported to have entered a mosque wielding a knife.

Some people are fearing a snowballing chain of revenge attacks, a notion that Matthew Goodwin from The Guardian calls “cumulative extremism”. He describes, “one form of extremism, for example rightwing extremism, mobilises specifically in response to another form , for example violent Islamism”. Goodwin suggests that as these tit-for-tat attacks grow, the original grievance is often forgotten and compared the situation to the unrest in Northen Ireland during the The Troubles of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

The Islamic Society of Britain was quick to condemn the attacks, saying, “Murdering a British soldier is an attack on our nation… Justifying this killing in the name of faith or religion is false and rejected”.

Another representative body, The Muslim Council of Britain, also commented: “This is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam…We call on our communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, to come together in solidarity to ensure the forces of hatred do not prevail”

While some find these public statements constructive others have argued that apologising only propagates the belief in collective guilt. George Eaton from the New Statesman defended the Muslim community, “Muslim’s shouldn’t have to distance themselves… They bear no more responsibility for jihadism than Christians do for the Ku Klux Klan.”

The announcements from the Muslim representative bodies did little to pacify the reaction from the British National Party (BNP) which dramatically announced “the beginning of the civil war”. The far-right nationalist group blamed “limp-wristed politicians” and called for a programme of deportation, claiming “the multicultural ethnic cleansing of our people from the homeland must stop”. The group has organised demonstrations for May 25 and June 1.

The Lone Wolf Terrorist

The ‘Lone Wolf’ terrorist is a growing fear for police and security services who have previously thwarted several planned attacks by networks of terrorists across the world.

Increasingly, individuals are viewing online material from extremist preachers and while some may be inspired by al-Qaeda, they have often had no real contact with fanatical groups.

In 2010 Roshonara Choudhry was convicted of the attempted murder of British MP Stephen Timms after having radicalised herself over the internet; in 2012 Mohammed Merah targeted soldiers and Jewish civilians in Toulouse, France and more recently, in the US last month, the Boston bombings were carried out by brothers with no apparent link to terrorist organisations.

The fear is that these extremists who are acting suddenly, with little planning and with no network are almost impossible to predict and to stop. Some journalists have coined the term “Nike terrorists” after the sport company’s slogan “Just do it”.

John O’Connor, a former Flying Squad commander at Scotland Yard told The Telegraph : “This has all the hallmarks of a very low key terrorist incident which raises a number of problems for the authorities…This type of attack is very difficult to protect against”.

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