Lifestyle & Belief

After murder of British soldier, anti-Muslim incidents on the rise


A woman reacts as she looks at floral tributes left at the scene where Drummer Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion was killed outside Woolwich Barracks in London on May 24, 2013.


Justin Tallis

LONDON — Exactly one week since British soldier Lee Rigby was hacked to death in London, the impromptu memorial outside the Woolwich barracks is growing.

So is the number of anti-Muslim incidents.

More than 200 Islamophobic incidents have been reported since last week's horrific event. The number includes 10 firebombings of mosques around England, according to the monitoring group, Tell Mama.

The group put that in perspective, pointing out that on average, there are three or four Islamophobic attacks per day in Britain. That means there has been a tenfold increase since Rigby's murder.

There has also been an aggressively different feel to the public mood here compared to previous incidents of jihadist terror. 

After the bombings of July 7, 2005, in which more than fifty people were killed, there was a real feeling of all communities coming together. The vibe was, we won't let these extremists pull us apart.

When bombers failed to blow up a massive car bomb outside a club in Piccadilly Circus two years later and were caught trying to flee, the attitude was one of almost pity for the deluded bombing failures.

From time to time in the intervening years plots have been broken up and wannabe jihadists sent to prison. The stories attracted little notice.

This time is different. Possibly because of the nature of the crime and the horrendous video of Michael Adebolajo talking to the camera, his hands soaked in blood.

Or possibly because the murder was committed in one of the last ungentrified parts of London, near neighborhoods where the English Defence League (EDL), a far-right nationalist group, has support.

The EDL was in the streets almost immediately, culminating in a demonstration outside Downing Street on Monday.

They were confronted by counter demonstrators chanting, "Where's your master race?!"

The EDL's activities may, paradoxically, undercut their message. Lee Rigby was wearing a "Help for Heroes" t-shirt when he was killed.

The EDL took up a collection for “Help for Heroes,” a charity for British soldiers wounded in Britain's current wars. A spokesman for the charity said it would not accept money raised by the EDL. 

The press has kept the tension ratcheted up. Right-wing commentator Melanie Phillips, whose column in the Daily Mail is so popular that she has started her own “branded content" website, excoriated British Prime Minister David Cameron for saying that the attack "was also a betrayal of Islam."

Phillips did have praise for a Muslim commentator in The Guardian, Usama Hasan, who wrote, "Muslim leaders need to take ownership of the specifically religious aspects of the problem, that is to say the twisted theology that easily brainwashes vulnerable people, some of whom are intelligent university students and graduates.’

Meanwhile, comic provocateur Russell Brand was given space in Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper to do what he does best — stir up the pot.

Brand wrote that Adebolajo was not motivated by religion; clearly he was insane. "In my view that man’s severely mentally ill and has found a convenient conduit for his insanity — in this case the Koran. In the case of another mentally ill and desperate man — Mark Chapman [John Lennon's killer] — it was The Catcher In The Rye."

It is possible that the worst of the storm is over. Yesterday it was reported that a small group of EDL protestors turned up at a mosque in York. The members of the mosque brought out tea and biscuits and they all ended up having a fine old chinwag. This led to a Facebook group being formed called the Tea Defence League, slogan, "Make Tea, Not War." 

Still, odds are that the anger and arguments will rumble on until Rigby's funeral in a few weeks time. No date or venue for the funeral has been set.