James Marshall writes from London: Was the horrendous murder of drummer Lee Rigby an act of terrorism? It was, because the perpetrators targeted the institution of the British state: the military. They were not interested in killing any ordinary civilian. Their justification was that the British army has been killing Muslims in various countries. They believed that the way to protest against British foreign policy was to kill a soldier. They waited after the murder for the police to arrive; then charged at them, hoping to kill one or more of them. They wanted their action to be visual and to strike terror into the hearts of the nation they hated. Their goal was to achieve the maximum exposure. They achieved this because the story is headline news throughout the planet.
Something that is very significant is that at least one of the killers was a Muslim convert. So how come a convert could become so upset about British foreign policy that he decided to kill a soldier? The convert never lived in a Muslim country and may not have visited any Muslim country. Hence, his understanding of Islam was derived from those living in a non-Muslim country: Britain. One explanation is that religion has separated from its roots in the traditions and ways of life that nurtured it. Islam is a holistic religion that embraces all aspects of life. The killers only concentrated on one aspect: jihad or politics. That became the focus of their life and separated them from other Muslims and non-Muslims in this country. In a Muslim country, Islam is so central to life and traditions that it appears absolutely natural to behave in a certain way. There is a shared sense of community and values. Muslim converts in this country lack that support base. Looking for a support base, they may gravitate towards extremist groups. These are intensely inward-looking and closed subgroups in Islam. They provide a sense of belonging and a mission in life. Members are told that if they sacrifice their life in promoting Islam they will be rewarded in the next life. A member of such a group is normally cut off from the wider community. He may give up family life in pursuit of a higher mission.
So the new phenomenon in Britain is the Muslim convert who adopts, from the point of view of mainstream Muslims, a minority aspect of Islam. Religion is divorced from the wider community and its traditions. The convert comes to believe that he and only he is right in his interpretation of Islam. He may be a lone wolf carrying out an attack or be part of a small group of lone wolves. His exclusivity gives him a greater sense of justification for his actions. He is an autodidact. And everyone knows they are often convinced they and only they are right.
So how does the wider community cope with the challenge of this new phenomenon? By seeking to integrate them into society. Since they hate British society and its secularism, the task devolves to the Muslim community. They need to identify and counter the extremism that everyone observed with horror in Woolwich. Unless this happens, a small minority of extremists will do irreparable damage to relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain.