It’s only been a few hours into the news, but for once I am going to jump in and comment. This time it has just gone too far.
A man claiming to be Muslim attacks three other men in the street in Woolwich with a machete, kills one and seriously wounds the other two, and then comes to someone filming the event (accidentally, I assume) and explains, the machete still in his bloodied hands, that he (and his accomplice) did this as payback for Muslims killed in Muslim countries, and that citizens of the UK will never be safe until those Muslims cease to be killed by UK forces. The victim seems to have been wearing a ‘Help for Heroes’ T-shirt, an organisation that supports veteran soldiers.
This is something out of a horror film, not out of a holy book.
I have recently written an extensive article for a friend’s website detailed precisely why violence against civilians is absolutely forbidden in any circumstances by Islam, but it will be three weeks before that article goes online.
I didn’t want to write before about the Boston attacks as I have still been reeling from those, in utter shock and incomprehension, and in sympathy for the families who had lost their loved ones to mindless murder. I am also afraid for everyone who might be marked out by far-right neo-Nazi Muslim-haters who have already attacked a mosque in Essex in retribution. Egged on by phony political parties like the EDF, pathetic excuses for racism and xenophobia, there will also be another reaction to every action. It seems like the cycle of hatred and revenge just never ends.
Anyway, very briefly, this is what my article says:
1) The term ‘civilian’ in Arabic is ‘man la yuqatil’, i.e. ‘he or she who is not/cannot be killed.’ That alone should be enough to indicate that it just shouldn’t ever happen.
2) Conflict can ONLY be carried out in a legally valid war, between one nation-state that has openly declared war on another. A splinter group, small militia, or any other band of psychos masquerading as ideologues do not have the authority to declare war or anyone, and therefore can never be legitimately involved in combat. This means that by Islamic law, the Woolwich killer is a murderer and should be tried as one.
3) Even in a legally valid war, a civilian can only resort to lethal violence in the extreme case that a man’s country is invaded suddenly, without having had a chance to prepare for the attack, their army has been totally overwhelmed, the enemy is literally knocking on their door, and he will still be killed and his wife raped if he surrenders. This is, needless to say, and inordinately rare situation.
5) Anyone living in any country that is not their country of origin, if they are living there with a valid visa, has effectively entered into a pact with that nation and is obliged to live by their laws. As the Qur’an says, “Allah’s earth is vast”; i.e., if you are not happy with the laws in the country you live in, go somewhere else. The Prophetic example of Hijra, or migration, to escape persecution, is so important to Muslims that it defines the birth of our own calendar.
6) The principles of futuwwa, or spiritual chivalry, are such that even in a valid war, combat must be between people who are both armed, no treachery must take place, or bodies mutilated; fruit trees must not be cut down, or wells poisoned, or crops ruined, or any other act that will prevent the enemy’s civilians from maintaining their livelihood. Pleas for mercy must be listened to. Killing must never be done out of anger. While the Qur’an allows for the continuation of the Mosaic Law of ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’, this phrase is always followed by ‘But forgiveness is better for you.’ Forgiveness is always the preferred course of action, and the overall sense you get from the laws regarding warfare is that the minimum harm should be done in order to effect the maximum amount of peace.
UPDATE: 7) Any war, in order to be legal, may only be defensive, and never offensive.
Apart from all the legal technicalities, which are amply known to any Muslim teacher worth his salt, there is this sinking, curdling, brooding feeling that attacks like this engender among Muslims (and, in this case, among Blacks too). It’s this: no matter how much we might despise acts like this, reject the hateful ideology that accompanies them, and wish that there might be change, none of us have ever really spent any time with one of these nut-jobs. How can we hope to access the source of this bile, or encourage it to take a more peaceful tack, without venturing into very shaky territory ourselves? We shrink away from people like this – so how can they be helped to change their minds?
It gives an unsettling, hopeless feeling that we must barricade ourselves inside our faiths, our homes, our cultures. All of which will only lead to more of the same. Each side only seems to be retaliating against the other. No-one knows when the original offence took place, or by whom. The British division of the Middle East? Did it go back even further than that? Are these resentments that have rumbling way back into the era of the slave trade, African colonialism, the Raj? Are we still hunting the past for reasons to blame someone other than ourselves for our current problems?
It also makes it even more difficult to have the opinion that European and American forces should indeed pull out of Afghanistan, for instance, lest we find ourselves on the same ‘side’ as the thugs.
My heart goes out to Woolwich right now. And if anyone has any suggestions on how to cut this cycle of revenge short, the world is listening…