We are not terrorists for us to apologize

Abdel Bari Atwan

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British media coverage of events in Woolwich this week would make you believe that the country is at war with another superpower, with enemy planes bombing British cities with nuclear missiles.

A state of extreme emergency has been declared, with Prime Minister David Cameron cutting short a state visit to Paris and returning to London to hold a top level security meeting in Cabinet Office Briefing Room A (COBRA), with senior intelligence and police figures.

The cause of all of this is two young Muslims, of Nigerian descent, one of whom converted to Islam ten years ago, who used machetes and a meat cleaver to brutally murder a British soldier on the streets of London in broad daylight. Witnesses said one of them shouted 'Allah Hu Akbar' [God is greater] as he attacked the soldier.

This crime has been condemned by Muslim and non-Muslim groups far and wide, and the manner of the killing, the brutality of it, demonstrates the furthest reaches of extremism.

Extremists exist in all societies, not just among Muslim communities.

Abdel Bari Atwan

Criminalizing Islam

From the moment ITV first aired footage of one of the killers speaking directly to someone's smartphone camera as he justified his actions, the weapons still in his bloodied hands, an intensive campaign to criminalize Islam and Muslims began. Somehow, we, as Muslims were directly or indirectly involved in this attack.

The labeling and Islamophobia was apparent well before any investigations or questioning, without any insight into the mental state of the killers. Were they sane? Were they under the influence of alcohol or drugs? Who had hired them to kill the soldier and commit this offence against Islam?

British newspapers, broadsheet and tabloid, published the same photo on their front pages – the killer speaking to camera with blood dripping from his hands, captioned with his threat that Britons won't be safe as long as Muslims are being killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

British PM, David Cameron instantly categorized this as an attack on Britain.

Moments after news of the brutal murder emerged, incitement against Muslims began. Hundreds of supporters of the extreme right-wing group English Defense League (EDL) gathered at the scene in Woolwich to demand revenge and retaliation, while others attacked mosques.

Denying connections

I want to ask Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and those who deny any connection between this attack and British foreign policy in the Middle East – why didn't we see similar attacks on the streets of London by Muslims when former prime minister Tony Blair launched a bloody war in Iraq, that led to the death of a million people?

I also want to tell the mayor that Khalid al-Fawaz, al-Qaeda's de facto spokesman in London was given the right to work from his office in Oxford Street, in the English capital. The same can also be said of Abu Musab al-Suri, another suspected al-Qaeda member who set up a center for studies in a nearby office.

The media's hysteria is born of the fact that the killers were Muslim. If they were from another religion, the grisly incident would probably have merited no more than a small piece on the inside pages of the newspaper.

Once again, I condemn this crime, and all murders, whoever the victims, whatever the supposed reasons, but surely we have the right to pause and discuss it calmly, after the incitement campaign against Islam has died down.

The victim was not a civilian, but a soldier who had served in Afghanistan for seven years. Do Britons think that their soldiers can kill innocent civilians during their wars abroad? Do they realize that Taliban are fighting because they want to evict foreign occupation forces from their country?

Britain sent more than 20,000 troops to Afghanistan, and nearly the same number to Iraq – haven't these forces engaged in military operations that led to thousands of deaths and injuries, using all kinds of aircraft, missiles and sophisticated weapons?

Wasn't the British government a major player in the aerial bombardment of Libya for over four months? How many innocent civilians were killed and wounded in the course of this bombardment?

For the millionth time I have to say that I, and the vast majority of Muslims, are against terrorism and murder; against the murder of this British soldier. But we Arabs and Muslims, who have suffered from British and American devastation, murder and gunfire, surely have the right to scream our pain.

More than two-and-a-half million Muslims live in Britain, this crime was committed by just two people, whose understanding of Islam can only be questioned, along with their motives.

It now appears that British intelligence had been monitoring the most prominent actor in the crime, the chief executor so why did they not arrest him earlier? The agency monitored every detail, from recording phone calls to following the movements of the suspects, so why did it not prevent the crime?

After Blair, the most influential man in 2003, fabricated the lie of weapons of mass destruction, to invade Iraq, I personally have started to believe the various conspiracy theories that we Muslims and Arabs have long rejected in favor of accepting the lies spun by the authorities. Since the level of deceit engaged to justify the destruction of Iraq has been revealed, I think that there are many people like me across Europe who have lost faith in the authorities.

Showing guilt

I have been living in Britain for 35 years. I lived through the IRA attacks in London, and never heard anyone calling them a Christian terrorist group. I didn't see Christian clergy apologizing for these attacks, the way leaders of the Muslim community are called out to condemn these attacks, in a way that implies guilt by association.

In August 2011, a police car ran over two British Muslims who were leaving a mosque after Friday prayers. A day before, the police shot dead a Muslim of African origin in mysterious circumstances. Despite this, neither leaders of Christian churches nor the police apologized to us.

Figures show that 4000 Muslims were killed by drones in Afghanistan, most of them were innocent people, including women and children who were attending a wedding, did anyone apologize for these deaths to us? I have never heard a frank apology, but I did hear President Barack Obama, yesterday telling us that he will continue sending these drones and even more of them to kill 'terrorists'.

Britain has the right to defend its security, and the lives of its citizens, clearly this is the role and duty of any government, but we also have the right also to say that the UK's foreign policy and its wars in the Islamic world, mostly motivated by colonial or economic interests, are a key factor in the threat to its security and stability, and in endangering the lives of its citizens.

Extremists exist in all societies, not just among Muslim communities. The man who killed 180 in the Oslo massacre, the men who blew up the municipal headquarters in Oklahoma were not Muslim. In the case of Norway, Anders Behring Breivik was a right-wing extremist who hates Islam. I am only saying this to those who only accuse Muslims of terrorism.

This article was first published in Al Quds Al Arabi on May 24, 2013.

Abdel Bari Atwan is the editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi. He is the author of The Secret History of Al Qaida, and A Country of Words, his memoir, and is currently writing a new book, Al Qaida, the Next Generation.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.