Imran Awan

By Imran Awan – Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University

Before writing this short blog I thought long and hard in terms of what I could write. What words could I use that would help inform the debate in this area? The simple truth is that no words can ever be used to display the shock, disgust and horror at this horrific attack in Woolwich. This was simply put a barbaric attack on an innocent person and we should all, regardless of what religious belief we hold, condemn it and pray for the family at this very difficult time. But as an academic and a criminologist clearly there are questions that need to be answered. For example, why and how were these men connected to such a violent ideology? Is there anyone else that knew about this attack? Or were they ‘lone wolf’ terrorists?

The images across our television screens of these two men holding meat cleavers and knives walking down streets of Woolwich with an air of calmness and talking to passers by showed little regret for what they had just done. This is deeply worrying for us all including local communities and the security services. And for these men to justify what they had done by using Islam was truly an insult to Islam. I am proud to be a Muslim and cannot understand how anyone could justify this attack. At this stage it is important to reflect on what Islam actually stands for.

Islam is a religion of peace and as such comes from the Arabic word ‘Salem’ which means peace. So I would like to ask the men accused of this terrible crime what part of that don’t you get. I would then like to ask them have they not read the verse in the Quran that clearly says if you kill a single human being it is as if you have killed the whole of mankind.

I believe once a person decides to commit such an attack they will do anything to follow through their plan, everyone is therefore a legitimate target. Since this terrible incident I have been interviewed by local BBC radio who have asked me ‘Why do you think these men were attempting to court media interest?’ Simply put the media, as famously coined by Margaret Thatcher, is the ‘oxygen’ for terrorists.

There are lots of ramifications of what happened and the blame game has already started. Was Islam to blame? Did the Muslim community do enough? Were the police and security services to blame?

But there are no easy answers. Tackling extremism is difficult as there is no single pathway to radicalisation. Instead there are a number of factors and local communities must work together with the police to try and help tackle radicalisation through a grassroots approach.

We now have the real risk for opportunistic criminals or far right protest groups to exacerbate this issue. Let’s not allow people like radical preachers or right wing protestors to use this as a justification for their own warped versions of faith and ‘Britishness’. As the Prime Minister aptly put it let’s stand together and unite in the face of terrorism.

Imran’s latest book on ‘Extremism, Counter-Terrorism and Policing’ published by Ashgate is due out in July 2013.

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