YouGov poll shows rise in proportion of people who believe British Muslims pose a threat to democracy
Nearly two-thirds of people believe there will be a 'clash of civilisations' between British Muslims and white Britons in the wake of the murder of a British soldier in Woolwich, a new poll shows.
The number of those who believe such a clash is inevitable has increased by 9% from last year.
There has also been a small increase in the proportion of people who believe British Muslims pose a serious threat to democracy, up to 34% on Thursday and Friday from 30% in November 2012, according to the YouGov survey of 1,839 adults.
The poll will fuel concern of an explosion of race hate, with one interfaith charity reporting a huge increase in anti-Muslim incidents since the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in south-east London on Wednesday.
Faith Matters, which runs a helpline, said they had received 162 calls since the attack, up from a daily average of six.
A number of people have also been charged by police after allegedly offensive messages were posted on social media websites. These include a 22-year-old man from Lincoln, a 28-year-old man from London, a 23-year-old woman from Southsea, and a 19-year-old man from Woking.
The BNP has also announced it will be demonstrating in Woolwich. National organiser Adam Walker claims the brutal murder meant a "line has been drawn in the sand and it signals the beginning of the civil war we have predicted for years".
However the YouGov poll provides evidence that Britain does remain a tolerant country and that the far-right support remains at the margins of society. Nearly two-thirds (63%) believe the vast majority of Muslims are good British citizens, up by 1% from last November.
There has also been an increase from 24% to 33% in the proportion who believe Muslims are compatible with the 'British way of life'. Around two-thirds (65%) said on the whole most people tend to get along well with each other.
One in five respondents said they felt positively about demonstrations being held against last week's terror attacks, and half felt negatively.
However, two-thirds said they felt negatively about such protests led by the BNP or English Defence League (EDL). Asked if they would join the EDL, 84% said they would never do so, although there has been a 9% increase in the proportion of respondents who had heard of the far-right organisation.
Dr Matthew Goodwin of Nottingham university, who commissioned the poll, said: "Compared to last year, when we ran the exact same survey, today people are either just as likely, or more likely, to endorse a series of more positive statements: that Muslims are compatible with the national way of life; are good citizens; make important contributions to society; and share British culture and values.
"In fact, while far right groups were pointing to the murder as evidence that Islam poses a fundamental threat to modern Britain, the percentage of respondents who view Muslims as compatible actually jumped by almost ten points, to 33%.
"Clearly, the numbers remain low, and point to wider challenges facing government, and our local communities. But in the aftermath of events that could well have triggered a more serious backlash, the direction of travel remains positive, and suggests there has not been a sharp spike in prejudice."
The underlining tolerance appears to back up the prime minister's statement last week in which he said the murder of Rigby on a Woolwich street was "not just an attack on Britain, and on the British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to this country."
On Saturday a demonstration by the EDL in Newcastle was met by a anti-fascist protest, chanting: "Nazi scum, off our streets."
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said groups such as the EDL were fuelling division and helping those behind terror attacks. She said: "Anyone who seeks to divide our communities is doing the work of the extremists they say they oppose.
"Mindless acts of violence against any of our communities serve no-one. Some people are trying to use the vile attack in Woolwich as an excuse for more hatred, violence, and extremism. We must not let them.
"The police, security services and all right minded people in this country will do everything they can to make sure any act of violence and intimidation is dealt with robustly and quickly.
"The clear message from the overwhelming majority of British people is 'not in my name'. We stand together against violent extremism, intolerance and hatred – whether it comes from Islamist extremists, the EDL, the BNP, or extremists of any kind."Daniel Boffey
We must stop trying to make excuses for the Tsarnaev brothers or jihad. It is wrong. Let's support peaceful Muslims around world
In many Muslim societies, the 40th day after a death is a time to gather and grieve again with loved ones. So, in honor of this the 40th day after the atrocities in Boston, I find myself thinking again about the 264 injured people, some of whom are learning to live without their legs, and about the dead victims: 23-year-old Chinese graduate student Lingzi Lu, who had just passed her exams, friendly 29-year-old waitress Krystle Campbell, and eight year-old Martin Richard who famously carried a sign that said "No more hurting people. Peace."
Bearing such losses in mind, I would ask anyone who wants to support the rights of people of Muslim heritage in the United States in the wake of the Boston bombings, please do not so by explaining that jihadist terrorism is simply a response to US foreign policy, or a consequence of the alleged difficulties faced by Muslim youth in integrating into American culture, or the result of Russian bombing of Chechnya.
Many of us have criticisms of US foreign policy and that of other countries; integrating may indeed be challenging for those from immigrant backgrounds in many contexts; and Chechens did suffer through the intolerable flattening of their country by the Russian military between 1992 and 2009. (As far as I know the United States never bombed the province.) However, most Muslims, immigrants and Chechens have not become terrorists as a result. These things are no excuse for – or even explanation of – the choice to deliberately murder children and young people at a sporting event. Such a grave international crime has nothing to do with legitimate grievances and everything to do with extremist ideology and movements that indoctrinate and instrumentalize young people. We must defeat those movements which have killed so many civilians, especially in Muslim majority countries like Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq and Pakistan.
I have just wrapped up three years of interviewing hundreds of people of Muslim heritage working against fundamentalism and terrorism around the world, and I learned many lessons from them that are helpful today. For example, Cherifa Kheddar, president of Algeria's Association of Victims of Islamist Terrorism, or Djazairouna, who wrote right after 15 April to say how terrible the Boston bombings were. She told me that
"We cannot defeat terrorism by an anti-terrorist battle without doing the anti-fundamentalist battle."
In other words, it is not just the violence of radical jihadis, but the underlying ideology of Islamism that we must confront. That ideology discriminates between Muslims and non-Muslims (as evidenced by Tamerlan Tsarnaev's reported indignation that his Imam mentioned Martin Luther King, a non-Muslim, during a sermon), and between "good" and "bad" Muslims. It justifies egregious violence against women and civilians, or at least creates an environment conducive to them.
Of course, being an Islamist or a jihadist is not same thing as being a devout Muslim, and it is unhelpful when the US media simply describes radicalization as becoming "more religious". This process is rather the adoption of a dangerous political stance that deploys religion in the service of an extreme agenda. The best way then to take a pro-human rights stance in the face of recent events is to support those people of Muslim heritage who are risking their lives to denounce and defy these movements. Many have raised their voices around the world in places like Afghanistan, but have rarely been heard in the west.
Discrimination against Muslims in the wake of an atrocity like the Boston bombings is wrong and unhelpful, but so too is a politically correct response, which fosters justification and denial. A young Iranian-American scholar reported that at a recent conference at UC Berkeley on Islamophobia, she was bullied by older US academics for daring to raise the issue of Muslim fundamentalism, along with anti-racism, and, in the same week as the Boston bombings, was told that there was no such thing as what she called "the Muslim right". We must face the reality of extremism.
Many people in Muslim contexts have spoken out against terror even while facing it themselves. I think of Diep Saeeda, a peace activist I met who organized rallies against Taliban violence in Pakistan, or against the blasphemy laws despite the threat that suicide bombers would take down the protestors. Or the Women's Action Forum in Pakistan that regularly denounces terrorism in print. After a March 2013 attack on Shia residents of Karachi, they wrote:
"[o]nce again we share unspeakable horror at the carnage … Once again we express our condemnation and outrage. Once again we wonder how many more times we will do this before there is resolve to deal with religious militancy."
I think of the Libyans who took to the streets of Benghazi in 2012 after the murder of US ambassador Chris Stevens. Or of Somali American activist Abdirizak Bihi who campaigned against Al Shabaab recruitment in the Somali-American community in Minneapolis, after his own teenage nephew's recuitment and death at the hands of the militants. We have to support these people and listen to their voices.
In light of the national origin of the alleged Boston bombers, I have been thinking a lot about a wonderful Chechen journalist I interviewed in Moscow in December 2010. A devout Muslim, Said Bitsoev, then-deputy editor of Novye Izvestia – an independent newspaper – was terribly concerned about what such movements were doing to his home province. "There [a]re a lot of radical people who are really bad for Chechnya. They want to put the country back in the dark ages."
Before the Chechen wars, most followed a spiritual Sufi Islam, in contrast to the harsh dogma of the extremists. Said himself loathed the radicals, their new restrictions on women, and new forms of violence. He especially hated the thousands of foreign jihadis who came to Chechnya during the second war. "They brought a lot of fear. I was not able to sleep without a gun under my pillow." These foreign fighters left behind a new breed of Chechen "radical-thinking Islamists" in Bitsoev's view. "The worst thing," Said tells me, is that they were "hunting for those Muslims who were representatives of tolerant Islam, and killed these people". He gives the example of Umar Idrissov, 80, a mufti from Urus-Martan, southwest of Grozny, who was assassinated in 2000 by the Wahhabi group "Wolves of Islam". In fact, across the Caucasus liberal Muslim clergy have been regularly targeted in recent years by extremists.
Said Bitsoev was all too aware that Chechens like those murdered clerics, or like him, are relatively inconspicuous internationally. "Radicals are interesting for the public because they are loud. We normal people are boring," he said. We must support the daily struggles of people like Said, who are too often invisible, against those who twist the religion of their birth into a totalitarian terror manifesto.Karima Bennoune
Rakhine state officials say limit on children will help ease tensions with Buddhists, whose population is growing at slower rate
Muslims in a province of Burma have been ordered not to have more than two children in an attempt by the government to stop Buddhist attacks on Muslims.
State officials said the two-child limit in the state of Rakhine would ease tensions between Buddhists and their Muslim Rohingya neighbours.
Local officials said the new measure was part of a policy that will also ban polygamyin two Rakhine townships that border Bangladesh and have the highest Muslim populations. The townships, Buthidaung and Maundaw, are about 95% Muslim.
The measure was enacted a week ago after a government-appointed commission investigating the violence issued proposals to ease tensions, which included family planning programs to stem population growth among minority Muslims, said Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing. The commission also recommended doubling the number of security forces in the volatile region.
"The population growth of Rohingya Muslims is 10 times higher than that of the Rakhine (Buddhists)," Win Myaing said. "Overpopulation is one of the causes of tension."
Sectarian violence in Burma first flared nearly a year ago in Rakhine state between the region's Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya. Mobs of Buddhists armed with machetes razed thousands of Muslim homes, leaving hundreds of people dead and forcing 125,000 to flee, mostly Muslims.
Since the violence, religious unrest has developed into a campaign against the country's Muslim communities in other regions.
Containing the strife has posed a serious challenge to President Thein Sein's reformist government as it attempts to institute political and economic liberalisation after nearly half a century of harsh military rule. It has also tarnished the image of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been criticised for failing to speak out strongly in defence of the country's embattled Muslim community.
Win Myaing said authorities had not yet determined how the measures will be enforced, but the two-child policy will be mandatory in Buthidaung and Maundaw. The policy will not apply yet to other parts of Rakhine state, which have smaller Muslim populations.
"One factor that has fuelled tensions between the Rakhine public and [Rohingya] populations relates to the sense of insecurity among many Rakhines stemming from the rapid population growth of the [Rohingya], which they view as a serious threat," the government-appointed commission said in a report issued last month.
Predominantly Buddhist Burma does not include the Rohingya as one of its 135 recognised ethnicities. It considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh says the Rohingya have been living in Myanmar for centuries and should be recognised as citizens. Muslims account for about 4% of Myanmar's roughly 60 million people.
Anti-Muslim incidents, online and in person, increase from a handful to 150 since Wednesday as arrests are made across UK
Anti-Muslim attacks in Britain have soared since Wednesday's murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich.
Faith Matters, an organisation that works to reduce extremism, said it had been told of about 150 incidents in the last few days, compared to between four to eight cases before Wednesday.
Fiyaz Mughal, the director of Faith Matters, said incidents were happening on the streets and online. "What's really concerning is the spread of these incidents. They're coming in from right across the country," he told the BBC.
"Secondly, some of them are quite aggressive; very focused, very aggressive attacks. And thirdly, there also seems to be significant online activity … suggesting co-ordination of incidents and attacks against institutions or places where Muslims congregate."
Police have reported several arrests since Wednesday. Benjamin Flatters, 22, from Lincoln, was arrested on Thursday after complaints were made to Lincolnshire police about comments made on Twitter that were allegedly of a racisut or anti-religious nature.
A second man was visited by officers and warned about his activity on social media, according to the police.
The charge comes after two men in Bristol were arrested and released on bail for making alleged offensive comments on Twitter about the murder. A 23-year-old and a 22-year-old, both from Bristol, were held under the Public Order Act on suspicion of inciting racial or religious hatred.
Detective Inspector Ed Yaxley of Avon and Somerset police said: "These comments were directed against a section of our community. Comments such as these are completely unacceptable and only cause more harm to our community in Bristol."
Two men will appear at Thames magistrates court on Saturday charged with religiously aggravated threatening behaviour over an incident in an east London fast food restaurant on Thursday.
Labourer Toni Latcal, 32, and plasterer Eugen-Aurelian Eugen-Beredei, 34, both from London, were arrested following the incident at 9.15pm on Thursday. Latcal was charged with religiously aggravated threatening behaviour and causing criminal damage, while Eugen-Beredei was charged with religiously aggravated threatening behaviour.
In Hastings, Adam Rogers, 28, of Kingsman Street, Woolwich, was arrested on Friday and will appear at Brighton magistrates court on Saturday accused of sending an "offensive, indecent or menacing message" online.Conal Urquhart
Speaking before Friday prayers, Muslims at the East London mosque condemn Wednesday's attack in Woolwich and express their sympathy with the family of murdered British soldier Lee Rigby. The worshippers agree that the actions of the two men accused of the attack are not in any way part of the Islamic religionMona Mahmood
If there is a message from the reaction to Rigby's death it is that Muslims are doing all they can to counter killers' divisive intent
Two days after Lee Rigby's horrific killing, the scene was set for a small but significant piece of community rebuilding: a delegation from the Muslim Council of Britain was to add its own tribute to the mass of flowers at the scene of his death. Then, at brisk walk in the pouring rain, arrived the last person some might wish to see at such a time: Nick Griffin.
The BNP leader, flanked by a burly aide and an even burlier bodyguard, insisted he was there purely as a politician – Rigby's family comes from his north-west England European Parliament constituency – and to "pay my personal respects". But no sooner were the cameras rolling than Griffin launched into his well-worn patter about Britain's supposedly radicalised Muslim population and how its was ignored by "the liberal elite, politicians and mass media".
Fortunately, the MCB were delayed, the group's deputy general secretary, Shuja Shafi, laying his own flowers after Griffin had gone. Shafi was at pains to say, he was there purely to mourn "the loss of a bright young man, a father, a husband and a brother".
It was a message reflected in other flowers left at the busy junction by Zahida Ahmad, a Muslim who has lived in Woolwich for 45 years. "Lee Rigby, we are deeply saddened by this tragic loss of an innocent life," read her card. "Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family."
If there is a wider message from the reaction in south-east London and more widely around Britain since Rigby's death it is that Muslim groups are doing all they can to counter the divisive intent of the killers.
Perhaps the biggest single expression of solidarity came at the East London mosque, in Tower Hamlets, as leaders of the Christian, Jewish and Buddhist faiths joined around 6,000 Muslims for Friday prayers.
The group included the Bishop of Stepney, Adrian Newman, and Leon Silver from the East London central synagogue. Speaking before prayers started they said they had come to condemn the Woolwich attacks and show that the various faith communities were standing shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim neighbours.
"Here in Tower Hamlets we do support each other in our different faiths," said Rev Alan Green, chair of the Tower Hamlets interfaith forum. "If there are attempts to demonise parts of our community – particularly the Muslim community – we will stand together. We will not leave our Muslim brothers and sisters to attempt to defend themselves."
Nonetheless, as well as sadness over the events in Woolwich there was fear among Muslim worshippers over what it may mean for them. "My sisters, my daughter – even my wife are now scared to go out because they fear what people may do after this," said Mizan Abdulrof. "Everyone is shocked and distraught about the horrendous act that was carried out. These idiots, these poor idiots, who carried out this barbaric act did so for their own self for nothing else … they have nothing whatever to do with Islam. Our hearts go out to that man and his poor family."
The latest figures for attacks against Muslims showed that these fears are not unfounded. The Tell Mama hotline for recording Islamophobic crimes and incidents recorded 148 incidents since the Woolwich attacks took place, including eight attacks on mosques.
Tell Mama co-ordinator Fiyaz Mughal said the service usually recorded three or four incidents on an average day, but the spike after Wednesday's killing showed no sign of slowing down.
To add to the growing tensions, far right groups such as the English Defence League and BNP are still trying to whip up division between communities.
The EDL, whose balaclava-clad supporters fought battles with the police in Woolwich hours after the killing, is due to hold a demonstration in Newcastle on Saturday and has called another protest outside Downing Street on Monday. Meanwhile the British National party has called a separate demonstration in Woolwich for 1 June.
Nick Lowles from anti-extremism organisation Hope not Hate said: "There are people who are deliberately trying to wind the situation up and incite a violent response against Muslims. We need people to stay calm but also we need the mainstream majority to speak out against extremism. Britain is better than the extremists."
Back at the East London mosque, sheikh Abdul Qayum condemned "without qualification the horrendous crime committed in Woolwich".
"Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victim. The actions of the perpetrators are totally against the religion of Islam and the example of the prophet Muhammad. Today we reaffirm this and stand with those of all faiths and none to oppose this terrible act."
At the closest major mosque to the attack, the Greenwich Islamic Centre, the mood ahead of Friday prayers were similar, albeit tinged with an air of weary resignation at being forced to defend their faith.
"Islam makes it very clear that if you murder one person you murder all of humanity," said one young mosque-goer, a Birmingham-born Christian convert who gave his name only as Mohammed. "But this is automatically a 'Muslim crime'. When Stuart Hazell killed Tia Sharp, did anyone mention he was brought up a Christian? No."
Mohammed said he felt particularly keenly about current events given that the two suspected killers are themselves converts to Islam: "But they're nothing to do with Islam and nothing to do with the mosque. I've never seen either of them here. And yet we're going to have to explain ourselves to journalists all day."Peter WalkerMatthew Taylor
Tighter security won't save us from more Woolwich-style attacks, but helping to protect those most at risk might
Almost eight years ago, I lost one of my dearest school friends in the 7/7 terrorist attack on London's transport network. James Adams and 25 others were murdered by Abdullah Shaheed Jamal on a train travelling between Russell Square and King's Cross. Jamal did not look like Osama bin Laden, Kaled Sheikh Mohammed or Mohamed Atta. In fact, he looked like me: black Caribbean, raised and schooled in Britain. Michael Adebolajo, one of the two people alleged to have killed Lee Rigby in Woolwich on Wednesday afternoon, has a similar profile to Jamal. Adebolajo also grew up and went to school in Britain. From the videos that have emerged, this was a man that looked and sounded like many of us. But by young adulthood, he had converted to Islam and had become radicalised enough to murder a complete stranger.
All of us want to know what security measures can be put in place to prevent this happening again but this alone will not be enough. No draconian measures to "toughen up" our borders can thwart the murderous ambition of a fellow citizen. Neither does any state have the resources to monitor every convert utterly convinced of their own righteousness. Similarly, the suggestion that the murder was a direct consequence of British foreign policy is superficially compelling – some even tried to suggest to me that my vote in favour of the invasion of Iraq contributed to James' death – but now that British troops have left Basra and are due to leave the dusty plains of Helmand next year, who truly believes this will spell the end of attacks like these? And even if they could, what sovereign nation can possibly have its foreign affairs dictated to by a violent minority?
We need to start by looking closer to home. There is no escaping the fact that terrorist attacks have almost exclusively been led and executed by young men. Males isolated from the rest of society, fixated by a binary world view where there is only faith and infidelity. But these profoundly alienated young men are not only to be found in Britain's Muslim communities – vulnerable males looking to fill a vacuum in a life absent of camaraderie and purpose are common to all ethnicities. Likewise, it is not uncommon for fringe groups of all ideological persuasions to systematically target these men by manipulating their sense of hopelessness and lack of belonging.
In one community, the English Defence League has radicalised the anger of disillusioned young white men and channelled it towards immigrant communities they believe are destroying their way of life. In another, a culture that idolises guns, knives and nihilism has drawn predominantly young black men into the world of street gangs. Boys from the age of 10 are taught to abandon all others apart from the gangs they belong to and to fight for turf with their rivals. Here, the very notion of masculinity has been bastardised to the extent that in their code, power and respect can only be achieved through intimidation and fear.
At its most extreme is the root of the horrific scenes in Woolwich on Wednesday. Radical Islamism suffocates conventional Islamic beliefs based on love and mutual respect with a diet of anger, hate and intolerance. Young men, perhaps already convinced of being outcasts, are intoxicated by teachings that not only entrench this difference further but demands that they despise the society they leave behind. Only through this prism is it possible to understand the deaths of Muslims in Afghanistan as an attack on oneself and subsequently seek revenge by the proxy of an inconspicuous soldier in a London suburb.
This distortion is so dangerous because it masquerades as an all-consuming faith. Whereas membership of the EDL or an inner-city gang can foster a type of lifestyle or, at worst, a livelihood, radical Islamism imposes a warped moral code and a polluted understanding of their purpose on earth. The attacks of 7/7 and the gruesome events in Woolwich were the products of marrying young men already drowning in their own grievances with a moral code that provides simple justifications for employing the worst excesses of human capacity.
This is no attempt to provide an alibi for the killers of Lee Rigby: no circumstance or character trait can possibly absolve personal responsibility in the case of this deliberate, gruesome murder. Neither can this possibly be caused by the recession or government cuts – there has always been a reservoir of young men that society forgets in times of both boom and bust.
But it is not unreasonable to ask why British males of a certain age and demographic but from all backgrounds almost exclusively provide the talent pool for our legions of racists, football hooligans, rioters, gang members and terrorists.
We may never be able to stop the EDL from trying to exploit the anger of young white, unemployed men. We may never be able to stop grime artists glorifying violence or gang leaders looking for impressionable black youths to do their bidding. Nor may we ever be able to stop clerics from the other side of the world inciting hatred in sermons uploaded to YouTube. But we aren't powerless. There is much more we can do to build the resilience of these young men long before they become candidates for radicalisation. We can help provide purpose to the purposeless so they cannot be manipulated. We can communicate a message of aspiration and opportunity that can cut through lives littered with grievances.
Most of all, our response should be informed by what weakens this fringe ideology the most. If the aftermath of Lee Rigby's horrific murder is that we return to a debate that isolates Britain's Muslim communities we will merely empower the racists that only wish to stoke tension. Instead, we have to empower the imams and mosques that utterly reject these heinous crimes without question. We have to strengthen the families and communities that are best placed to make a difference, not just limit our ambition to tap more phones or track more emails. We need to turn our attention to the generation of alienated and brutalised young men who remain vulnerable to the poisonous ideology of violent extremism. If we make no attempt to reach them, then we will only empower the zealots that groomed the murderers of Lee Rigby and James Adams.
Something about the convert experience may explain why a small minority, like the Woolwich attackers, find extremist messages attractive
Now that we know the two Woolwich attackers are converts to Islam, questions are being asked about whether converts are more likely to adopt extremist ideology. The vast majority of Muslim converts are law-abiding, decent citizens, but there is something about the convert experience that may explain why a small minority of converts find extremist messages attractive.
At least five years ago, influential politicians were warning that Muslim converts pose a particular threat to British security. When official counter-terrorism policy was revised two years ago, converts were given a specific mention (on page 87 of this report) as prone to being radicalised. Notorious Muslim converts have helped sustain the impression that converts are disproportionately represented in extremist circles: there is Al-Qaida's spokesman Adam Gadahn, the shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Germaine Lindsay was one of the 7/7 suicide bombers, Nicky Reilly attempted a suicide bombing in 2009, and more recently, Richard Dart was convicted on terrorism charges.
It is important to stress that from the estimated 5,000 converts to Islam every year, almost all of them embrace Islam after being inspired by its monotheistic clarity, its moral guidance and its holistic framework. Conversion to Islam is rarely political, but it is usually connected to personal self-building and spiritual awareness. My own extensive research with converts over the last five years has brought me into contact with hundreds of converts who overwhelmingly describe themselves as "bridge builders". It's commonplace for converts to see themselves as having a vital role to play as ambassadors to non-Muslims on behalf of Muslims, but just as crucially, to see themselves as ambassadors to Muslims on behalf of non-Muslims.
It would therefore be plainly wrong to insinuate that most converts are likely to engage in extremism. This not only ignores the huge diversity that exists among how converts approach Islam but may also lead to an unhelpful and discriminatory profiling of converts. It is more accurate to say that those converts who subscribe to extremism may have done so because of experiences that are particular to converts.
Various research, including a recent report by Cambridge University, has shown that conversion to Islam is a testing journey. Choosing to embrace a religion which is routinely considered as backward and foreign often results in the convert being shunned by non-Muslim family and friends. Many converts expect Muslim communities will compensate by welcoming them and providing a new support network as is encouraged by Islamic teachings.
However, in reality, this welcome is not always forthcoming. Rather, converts can be ostracised by lifelong Muslims because they are still perceived by some as "outsiders". If a convert feels rejected by both non-Muslims and Muslims, loneliness and disappointment can manifest, and the promise of membership to a closely-knit clique offered by extremist groups may become attractive.
The other consequence of not being accepted into a Muslim community may be an increased fervour to prove oneself. Muslim converts are familiar with encountering lifelong Muslims who doubt their sincerity and may even be asked to recite parts of the Qur'an to prove their authenticity. Some converts may see no better way to demonstrate how serious their commitment to Islam is than by adopting an aggressive extremism which may require them to sacrifice their liberty, and in some cases, their life.
Converts to Islam often talk about grappling with trying to distinguish between authentic Islamic teachings and Muslim cultural practices. Most converts are determined to follow the teachings of Muhammad, but would rather leave South Asian culture for South Asian people. The ideology of extremist groups is based on a literalist interpretation of Islamic sources which they claim is pure and uncontaminated, or in other words, free from cultural bias. This is of course highly contestable but for some converts, the promise of an Islam that resembles its earliest form can be especially appealing.
There is no one type of person who converts to Islam. The backgrounds of many converts are rather banal and as "normal" as the average person. However, there are some converts to Islam whose previous lifestyle involved criminality, gang culture and general hostility towards authority. These converts may seek redemption in Islam or a clean break from a troubled past. In some cases though, that past remains within their psyche, and it is in extremism that they find a familiar framework. Significantly then, not all extremist converts are radicalised by Islam, but by a previous lifestyle that lingers into their post-conversion life.
Many converts are impressively knowledgeable about Islamic teachings and debates. It is often the case that an individual spends years reading about Islam before taking the plunge of converting. Yet, there are some converts to Islam who have not had the resources, time or aptitude to appreciate the history of Islamic scholarship and the multitude of contemporary perspectives. These naive and ignorant converts may be indoctrinated by extremist preachers with their simplistic binaries and obvious solutions if they do not encounter the mainstream, traditional and much more tolerant interpretations of Islam that is subscribed to by most of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims.
It would be shortsighted to explain the Woolwich attacks solely by reference to the potential loneliness or ignorance of the attackers, however. These are just some of the factors that may explain why a small number of converts may find extremist groups attractive. To fully understand why we are vulnerable to terrorist attacks, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, we have to recognise that our foreign policy is highly problematic. It is the west's use of violence in Muslim countries – which often causes great harm to civilians – that ultimately provides the fuel that allows extremist groups to recruit both converts and lifelong Muslims.Leon Moosavi
Archbishop of Canterbury says UK's religious communities are in good position of co-operation and mutual support
The archbishop of Canterbury has praised British Muslim organisations for their response to the murder of Lee Rigby, saying that the UK's different religious communities are in a good position of co-operation and mutual support.
"We have all been appalled by the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich," said Justin Welby during a joint appearance in Leicester with Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
After offering his prayers to the soldier's family, colleagues and comrades, as well as those who had been affected within the community, the archbishop praised the way in which religious groups had reacted.
"I want to recognise the response of churches, mosques and other faith and civil society groups, as well as those of brave individuals who have done so much to bring our communities together at this time," he said.
"The strong response of the Muslim Council of Britain and many other organisations has rightly emphasised that these acts have no place in Islam."
Welby described Leicester as a shining example of how religious communities work together, adding: "We are in a good position. There's very good foundations which have been laid over the last few years. It's very solid and I'm highly confident."
Mogra condemned the murder of Rigby as barbaric and pointed out that Muslims had a long, proud and honourable tradition of serving in the British armed forces.
He also called for all Britain's communities to come together, adding that some Muslims were concerned about a backlash following the killing. "But we hope that the police … will ensure law and order is maintained," he said. "If we begin to cower and hide ourselves away we allow the terrorists to win."
He added: "After the 9/11 incident, the London bombings and during the visit of the English Defence League to Leicester, the Leicester communities have all stood together, shoulder to shoulder.
"We had a tremendous public show of support for the Muslim communities after the terrorist attacks, where religious leaders, community leaders, people from all walks of life stood with us, shoulder to shoulder, and the peace has continued.
"This is one of the strengths that our country has, where people are able to make a distinction between law-abiding, peaceful citizens and the criminals."Sam JonesPaul Owen
Al-Qaida's war will not end when Nato forces leave Afghanistan. If anything, terrorist attacks here in Britain could increase
Michael Adebolajo, the knife-wielding, blood-soaked brute who is suspected of killing Drummer Lee Rigby told passersby he was fed up with people killing Muslims in Afghanistan. If that was the reason for Wednesday's attack on Drummer Lee Rigby, Adebolajo should have travelled to Helmand and started wielding his knife against Taliban fighters. It is they who kill most Muslims in Afghanistan.
According to the United Nations, 81% of civilian casualties were inflicted by the Taliban and their bedfellows in 2012, with only 8% caused by Afghan and coalition forces. This is roughly the pattern of previous years too. The overwhelming majority of the Taliban's victims were the result of deliberate targeting and indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks, some carried out by children.
Adebolajo seemingly has a track record with the group that loudly accused my own regiment, the Royal Anglians, of being child killers and "butchers of Basra" during a march through Luton to honour their return from Iraq in 2010. A regiment that had completed its six-month tour of duty without firing a shot in anger, and had protected many Iraqi Muslims from the depredations of extremist killers.
Of course, Iraq, Afghanistan and the "defence" of their brother Muslims in far-off lands are nothing more than feeble excuses for Islamists who follow al-Qaida's murderous agenda. Al-Qaida's earlier bombing campaigns in the 1990s – during which far more Muslims were killed than the westerners they were targeting – and 9/11 obviously pre-date the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
Their agenda is far wider. It is to remove western presence and influence from Islamic lands, impose fundamental theocratic rule on all Muslim countries and unite them under a restored Sunni caliphate as imagined from centuries past.
Al-Qaida does not see this as a short-term project, but one that will be achieved only in generations to come. Its role is to drive inexorably towards this goal by mass killings intended to set community against community, and to gradually undermine the existing order through violence and economic destruction.
Al-Qaida's war will not end when Nato forces leave Afghanistan. Neither will its campaign in Britain. If anything, terrorist attacks here could increase. In Helmand, British soldiers have encountered Taliban fighters with Birmingham accents and bodies with Manchester United tattoos. Many British Muslims have travelled to Afghanistan for jihad. If that option reduces after 2014, some might turn their murderous attentions on their homeland.
That was true of Parviz Khan, a Birmingham man who was prevented from travelling abroad to fight and instead hatched a plot in 2007 to kidnap and behead a British soldier here at home.
Ironically, the rudimentary attack in Woolwich may be the result of increasing success by British and international security forces against Islamist terror networks and cells set up to execute more sophisticated plots. MI5 has thwarted dozens of serious terrorist plans here in the UK since 2001. Only last month, 24 people were convicted of terrorism-related offences in British courts. Al-Qaida Central, whose hand was previously behind many attack plans in Britain, has been sent reeling by wave after wave of highly effective US drone strikes in the Pakistan border areas, and are now in virtual survival mode.
Anwar al-Awlaki, an English-speaking al-Qaida leader, was the inspiration behind many recent terror plots in the UK. It is possible that the Woolwich killers were motivated by his exhortations to Muslims everywhere to launch whatever attacks they could with whatever weapons they had to hand. Though Awlaki's message continues to resonate among his followers, he was fortunately silenced by a US drone strike in Yemen in September 2011.
There are unfortunately many more Awlakis out there. The continuing threat from Islamist terrorism shows how urgent it is that the government finds ways of shutting down the preachers of hate both here in Britain and on the internet. These mind-benders, who seek out the compliant and the vulnerable, are every bit as culpable as those who wield the knife or plant the bomb at their behest.
We don't yet know whether Rigby's murderers were acting alone, but their attack required little planning, no finance, no support network and no special expertise other than merciless bloodlust. With few opportunities to collect intelligence via planning and communications, these are the most difficult terrorist attacks for our security services to prevent.
Yet it seems that both suspects had previously been on MI5's radar. It is not the first time that the activities of those on the periphery of extremism have been disregarded by the security service, only to emerge in serious terrorist plots. Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the 2005 London suicide attacks, is a case in point. But the police and security service have to prioritise their operations against finite resources. The Woolwich attack raises the question: is increased funding needed to widen their net in an ever-evolving war on terror that has many decades yet to run?Richard Kemp
A man who claims to know one of the suspects in the Woolwich attack says his friend was 'preaching peace' when he first converted to Islam
As a British Muslim and former army officer, I know this barbaric attack will only increase the unity of all military personnel
The British armed forces is one of the last truly great institutions of our country. That a young soldier, unarmed, alone and walking in his own country, could be attacked and killed is profoundly shocking. This atrocity in Woolwich is an attack on all of us and it is act of treasonous proportions. I have spoken with former colleagues from the Army, veterans, community leaders and politicians – and we are all united in standing against this cowardly murder.
I feel passionately about this: I am a British Muslim, a former British army officer and a prospective British parliamentarian. I have spent the past 11 years in the British army serving in the UK, Germany, Iraq and three tours of Afghanistan. I have worked with thousands of service personnel and hundreds of Nato colleagues. In all this time, during a decade in the war on terror, I have seen outstanding teamwork, brotherhood and compassion within the armed forces. Hundreds of British military personnel are Muslim. They work, live, play and fight alongside the majority Christian personnel and also many other faiths as one cohesive, effective team.
As we witness this brutality in Woolwich, more than 600 Muslim personnel are deployed in Afghanistan, Mali, Somalia and elsewhere, contributing to our collective security. This attack is not connected to them, nor the armed forces, who have helped so many Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan – two theatres in which the principal beneficiaries of military intervention have been Muslim civilians and their governments. This attack is an aberration and completely condemned by all. There are those who seek to divide our united communities and sow discord and strife; they have shown their true colours by attacking police and property. We must not let the extremists in this debate divide us. We are one country, we are the majority, we are right and we will never give in to these fringe expressions of hatred and barbarity.
In the past 24 hours the prime minister and senior members of the government have shown immense strength and robust leadership at this difficult time. All Muslim community leaders and organisations have quickly moved to show, as Britons, that they are standing up to hatred and criminality. It is too early to know exactly what motivated this attack, but what is absolutely clear is that we are one country, we are united and we will not allow ourselves to become divided by extremists.
The ranting attempt by one of the alleged attackers to justify this crime should not be accepted at face value, the underlying analysis he presents is completely wrong and it is utterly against the values of Islam. The first person in history to formally prohibit the killing of innocents and non-combatants was the prophet Muhammad. The 3 million British Muslims who live day by day in near-perfect harmony in our country are the real face of Islam; teachers, doctors, underground workers, politicians, soldiers and in every other profession living and contributing to our collective wellbeing.
The coming weeks and months will reveal much of what lies behind this single act of barbarism and I remain confident that community cohesion will endure, that the unity of the members of the armed forces will only increase, and that we as a country will continue to stand defiantly and valiantly against all forms of hatred and extremism.Afzal Amin
The savage killing of a British soldier in Woolwich has to be condemned without reservation by all Muslims (Report, 23 May). This murder fills us with revulsion, and our heartfelt condolences are extended to the victim's family.
Last week, the British Muslim community was in the spotlight with the conviction of a child sex abuse gang in Oxford (Report, 15 May). This week, two misguided Muslims – new converts to Islam – have brought further opprobrium to practising Muslims. This terrible scourge of child abuse and terrorism within some strains of British Islam is sadly reflective of the broader incapacity of the Muslim community to fully integrate with the general mainstream. British Muslims must disassociate themselves from all variants of imported religious fundamentalism so that far-right organisations cannot exploit burgeoning social tensions in the UK.
However, there are underlying reasons behind the Woolwich brutality. There is a clear correlation between Tony Blair's illegal invasion of Iraq and the emergence of Muslim terrorism in the UK. Before the UK embarked upon non-UN sanctioned intervention in the Middle East, there was no Muslim violent extremism here. This in no way condones the despicable deeds of two opportunistic converts to Islamic fundamentalism, but Labour's former leaders must be held accountable for dragging this country into needless US-inspired foreign adventures. They are partly responsible for providing Muslim militants with their conveniently toxic propaganda. It is time that the UK addressed the roots of Islamic terrorism instead of focusing just on its contemptible results.
Dr T Hargey
Imam, Oxford Muslim Congregation
• Although it is too early to say whether the terrorists who killed the British soldier are nation-centric or al-Qaida-centric, there is no denying that lack of integration incubates both. Nation-centric groups (Kashmiri militants, Sikh separatists, etc) invoke religion as a mean to win public support, while al-Qaida-centric ones are driven by it. Both groups, however, kill innocent people to achieve their aim.
Britain is home to a large number of religious minorities, some of which are more fully integrated than others. Those who find integration painful tend to find solace in political radicalisation. Unless Britain places integration at the centre of its immigration policies, it is difficult to see how such radicalisation of religious minorities can possibly be pre-empted.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex
• As a long-time reader of the Guardian I have appreciated your position as the moderate, well-informed and liberalist alternative to the excesses and ignorance of many other newspaper offerings. However I must complain about your front page (23 May). The headline, "You people will never be safe", may be an accurate quotation, it may be newsworthy and eyecatching, but it is also a shameful misuse of your influence in the current climate. You know the Islamophobia that is being used to justify hate crimes across the globe. This would have been an inappropriate front page for a tabloid; for the Guardian it is reprehensible. Read the comments it has prompted on social media networks – you have gravely offended your readers.
Dr Samantha Pegg
Senior lecturer, Law School, Nottingham Trent University
• Twenty years ago, also in south London, another man was stabbed to death for "what", rather than who he was. No media nor public outrage immediately followed, nor did the full weight of the state swing so dramatically into action – quite the opposite, in fact, as the Stephen Lawrence inquiry was years later to document. Moreover, on the day of the killing in Woolwich, Julie Bindel called for an inquiry into why victims of domestic violence – two women a week killed in England and Wales – are not getting sufficient protection. None of these cases are direct equivalents – but the differential responses to each of them are, sadly, all too telling about state, institutional and societal priorities.
Professor of criminology, Faculty of Social Sciences, the Open University
• No amount of condemnation can hide the fact that in Woolwich the blood of the innocent was shed in the name of Allah. If Muslims want to live in the UK it is incumbent upon us to take responsibility for how the Qur'an is being interpreted and taught to British Muslims. Likewise, those of us who find it hard to reconcile with the British way of life have the choice of moving to the lands where sharia supposedly rules. But please, no more butchering of human beings in the name of Allah on British soil.
• A soldier is murdered and our leaders react with "keep calm and carry on". Carry on with the drone attacks which kill indiscriminately. Carry on with the collateral damage of criminal allied actions against wedding parties and families mistaken for insurgents. Carry on with the politically blind foreign policies that put us all in mortal danger. David Cameron has no intention of ending reckless militarism, but until he does, these atrocities will continue to threaten our nation.
• Mohsin Hamid expressed the sentiments I have for years been urging my Muslim students to include in letters to editors ('Islam is not a monolith', G2, 20 May). I teach PR and journalism and continually stress the importance of standing up publicly for Islam. Hamid has done this beautifully. The radical fanatics who do so much damage are thankfully a minority, but how many Muslims are pointing this out? So far my students have regrettably been reluctant to champion their religion. Such silence contributes to the rise of Islamophobia. Only if more people follow Hamid's example can there be any hope of Islam being regarded in a better light.
Suspect said to have attended al-Muhijaroun events in the Woolwich area and chose his own Muslim name
Among the questions for counter-terrorism officials after the Woolwich attacks is how the alleged attackers became radicalised to the point where they decided to carry out violence on Britain's streets.
Part of that radicalisation can be tracked to extremist groups such as the now-banned al-Muhijaroun. Its former UK head, Omar Bakri Mohammad told the Guardian that he had known Michael Olumide Adebolajo, who had attended many meetings. These included al-Muhijaroun events at community centres and a mosque in the Woolwich area.
Adebolajo attended the meetings from 2004 to around 2011 and, according to Bakri Mohammad, chose his own Muslim name after converting from his Christian upbringing. The name he chose, Mujaahid, means one engaged in jihad.
Bakri Mohammad, now banned from Britain, said that, as a new convert, Adebolajo received special attention: "In 2004, Muslims were feeling a lot of pressures from new laws and from Iraq."
Questions asked by Adebolajo included when violence may be justified: "He asked these type of questions, like many others," said Bakri Mohammad. "He was asking what to do, he was most likely affected by the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan."
But the man who stood on a London street on Wednesday, being filmed clutching weapons, with his alleged victim lying in the street near by, was shy, said the one-time extremist leader.
Bakri Mohammad said: "He was very, very shy person, he spoke very quietly."
Adebolajo appears to have attended events organised by groups which succeeded al-Muhijaroun until around 2011. There are claims he may have been seen as recently as a fortnight ago in south-east London railing against the west.
Attending meetings of extremists is one type of radicalisation. Another is the internet where some of the most popular extremist preachers include Anwar al-Awlaki, a preacher based in Yemen linked to major terrorist plots such as the Fort Hood massacre at an army base in the US and plots in the UK including the attempted murder of Labour MP Stephen Timms in his constituency surgery. Al-Awlaki was killed in a US drone strike in October 2011.
He had no qualms in saying Muslims should attack the west in whatever way they could. His videos have been found on YouTube leading to demands they should be removed.
One of the features of the two suspects in the Woolwich attacks is their Nigerian heritage.
One law enforcement source said this showed the increased number of countries those contemplating violence can now travel to for radicalisation or even for training: "In the past the concern was around Afghanistan or Pakistan, but now there are a multiplicity of places.
"This shows the complexity of the picture. We have got Nigeria here, there is also Syria, Libya, Mali."
Syria is of special concern currently, and it is estimated that scores of Britons may have travelled there.Vikram Dodd
Police deploy extra patrols to Islamic sites as people report verbal, physical and online abuse, including threats to kill
Fears of a prolonged backlash against Muslims have intensified after dozens of Islamophobic incidents were reported in the wake of the murder of the British soldier Lee Rigby in south London.
The Tell Mama hotline for recording Islamophobic crimes and incidents recorded 38 incidents over Wednesday night, including attacks on three mosques, with more reported on Thursday.
The Metropolitan police put 1,200 more officers on the street on Thursday, with extra patrols deployed to mosques and religious sites as far-right groups reacted to the tragedy.
The Tell Mama co-ordinator Fiyaz Mughal, from Faith Matters, said the service usually recorded three or four incidents on an average day, but the spike after Wednesday's killing reflected simmering resentment against Muslims and was unlikely to fizzle out.
"What we are seeing is concerted action from individuals across the country," he said. "We are really concerned. When you see a wider picture of resentment and retribution, this is telling us it's an increasing problem. Something is moving in a very disturbing direction."
A 43-year-old man was being questioned on Thursday on suspicion of attempted arson and possession of an offensive weapon at a mosque in Braintree, Essex. The local MP, Brooks Newmark, tweeted that the man was carrying "knives and an incendiary device".
Another man was held on suspicion of racially aggravated criminal damage after Kent police were called to an incident at a mosque in Gillingham, Kent.
The incidents compiled by Tell Mama, which monitors news feeds and social media as well as taking calls from the public, included seven incidents of Muslims being abused – including being spat at or threatened in the streets – another five mosques being threatened, and dozens of other online threats.
On the "True British Patriots" Facebook page, there were calls for mosques in Watford in Hertfordshire and Morden, south London, to be burned down.
The incidents came despite prompt and unequivocal condemnation of the murder by leaders of Muslim groups, including the Muslim Council of Britain, the Ramadhan Foundation and the Islamic Society of Britain, as well as individual Muslims, a number of whom took to social networks to express their disgust.
"We can't allow the voices of [the British National party leader] Nick Griffin and the far right to become louder than ours in the coming days," Julie Siddiqi, of the Islamic Society of Britain, told Radio 4's Today programme. "All of the Muslim organisations have come out with the strongest possible terms to say there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever, no justification for anything like this."
But Mughal warned: "I think the damage has been done." He said his own address had been posted on Twitter, with users invited to shoot him. In response to the heightened tension, he has contacted mosques and police ahead of Friday prayers amid fears that far-right groups may try to confront worshippers.
Hours after the murder, the English Defence League held a demonstration in Woolwich, during which supporters, some wearing balaclavas printed with "EDL", engaged in running battles with police for almost an hour. They have since announced another gathering, to be held outside Downing Street on Monday, ostensibly to show support for British troops.
The league's Twitter account went into overdrive and thousands of people "liked" its Facebook page after the killing, although some people posting were challenging its ideology and ridiculing its beliefs. The BNP announced its own demonstration in Woolwich on 1 June.
The Met assistant commander, Mark Rowley, revealed that officers were monitoring social media for signs of people trying to exploit the attack to foment trouble. "Anybody seeing this as an opportunity to protest, cause mischief, or create tension is unhelpful and unwelcome, and we'd rather it did not happen," he said.
David Cameron and the London mayor, Boris Johnson, said the beliefs of the suspected attackers were alien to Islam.
"This was not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life; it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country," the prime minister said. "There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act." Johnson said it was "completely wrong to blame this killing on the religion of Islam".
Dr Matthew Feldman, co-director of the soon to be launched Centre for Fascist, Anti-Fascist and Post-Fascist studies at Teesside University, said extremist Muslims and groups such as the EDL "need each other". He said he feared they could engage in tit-for-tat attacks, with each side justifying its existence in terms of the other.
"We need to call out people who use this violence to advance what are clearly prejudicial agendas," he said.Haroon SiddiqueSam Jones
Imam Swaleh speaking on Thursday from the steps of Greenwich Islamic Centre, condemns the killing of a soldier in Woolwich on Wednesday
Muslim cleric, Anjem Choudray, describes one of the suspects implicated in the killing of a soldier in Woolwich, south east London, on Wednesday
Condemnation isn't enough. Muslims must take ownership of the problem in their midst, and the war on terror must be rethought
British society, including its Muslim communities, needs to move beyond the routine condemnation of terrorist attacks and plots – there have been dozens since 9/11. We need instead to address the extreme Islamist ideology that al-Qaida and its sympathisers promote to incite attacks against soldiers and civilians worldwide in both war-torn and peaceful countries. 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.
The key planks of this extremist ideology are: that the west is at war with Islam and Muslims; that Muslims cannot ultimately live in peace with non-Muslims or in "non-Muslim" societies and that Muslims must live in an "Islamic state" that enforces the narrowest and harshest interpretations of sharia law. All these arguments are utterly simplistic and destroyed by any in-depth reading of scripture, history or Islamic jurisprudence. Regrettably, however, these divisive and hate-filled messages are still very common in Muslim discourse, here and abroad.
For example, I was present at City Hall in 2004 when Ken Livingstone, then mayor of London, welcomed Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the influential cleric with a global audience of tens of millions. In his talk, to my horror, the relatively progressive Qaradawi said that there was no such thing as an Israeli civilian, and that all Israelis were therefore legitimate targets. "Their women are not like our women, since military service is compulsory," as he put it. His translator did not translate this part, so to this day Livingstone and the BBC and Channel 4 crews present probably do not know what was said.
The sheikh justifies terrorism against Israelis but insists that no other land is a land of war. But it is very easy for al-Qaida to extrapolate from his logic and justify terrorism in the west, where according to them taxpayers, never mind serving soldiers, are complicit in murdering Muslims in western-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This logic was explicitly used by the 7/7 ringleader, as well as dozens of British Muslim terrorists since: "We will attack and kill you until you get out of Muslim lands." The Woolwich terrorists are only the latest in a long line of deluded young men.
Democracy must be strengthened for extremist thinking to be exposed and defeated, whether it is from Islamist fascists or rightwing fascists. In particular, Muslims must be clear that democracy is fully compatible with Islam, including the right of free societies to choose whether or not to follow religious codes – there must be no compulsion or coercion in matters of religion or faith, as the fundamental Qur'anic principle states.
It should be clear that the war on terror has been very short-sighted and, in many cases, a failure: while al-Qaida has been defeated in Afghanistan, it has established other strongholds in parts of Mali, Yemen, Somalia and Syria. There is no military solution, as exemplified by the drone strikes that kill civilians as well as terrorists, and breed more generations of grievance-filled victims.
There is a responsibility then for all of us to learn lessons: for Muslims to take ownership of the fight against extremist ideology; for all of us to expand the opportunities for democratic participation, and for the US to rethink its counter-productive war on terror.
We need to stop state warmongering as well as militant religious fundamentalism, and concentrate instead on pre-emptive peacemaking. Let these be the lessons of Woolwich.
Two big-budget biopics of the prophet in production – difficulties around presenting his image notwithstanding – have genuine blockbuster potential, and could promote cultural dialogue
"Be a bridge!" Those are the Turkish teacher's last words to the Bosnian boy he's just pulled out of a surging torrent, before he dives back into the river to reach a second pupil. Seconds earlier, the two teenagers had been locked together – Muslim v Orthodox Christian, a knife hovering between them. But the teacher, doggy-paddling against the current, knows that religion makes no difference when lives are at stake. There's a message from on high (and we're not talking Allah) about the dangers of division between men: overhead is Sarajevo's Latin Bridge, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand received his fateful 1914 gunshot.
Turkish religious hit Selam certainly doesn't shy away from the grand gesture. That's the climax to one of its three stories, which all focus on the altruistic deeds of pious teachers in different countries; in the other two segments, two lovers find themselves a world apart in Senegal and Afghanistan. The first Turkish work to be shot on three different continents, it was No 1 in that country for five weeks through April, taking nearly $8m so far.
But don't mistake Selam for a mere local concern. It may come in a Turkish flavour, but didactic and cheesy though it is, it's also internationalist in scope, a kind of Muslim Babel aiming outwards at the world. It has a proselytising zeal, dramatising missionary work and partaking itself by making a case for Islamic values in life. The Gülen movement – the progressive, possibly political, network that some people now rate as the most influential Muslim faith organisation worldwide – provided locations and casting support. And Selam is one of several projects currently aiming to make a piercing statement on behalf of Islam with cinemal, a medium – because of the nature of image-making – with which this religious tradition arguably has compatibility issues.
There are two big-budget biopics of Muhammad – one Shia, one Sunni – in the works, in addition to one other that seems to have fallen by the wayside. That qualifies as a glut, since the last similar live-action project was 1976's The Message, from director Moustapha Akkad – a major difficulty for the aspiring chronicler being the prohibition on depicting the prophet. Iranian director Majid Majidi, whose $30m biopic began filming in October, recently pointed out: "While there are 250 films on Jesus Christ, 120 films on Moses, 80 about the other prophets and 40 films on Buddha, there is only one on the life of Prophet Muhammad. Unfortunately, we [have] failed to introduce our prophet to the western world."
Interest on this side of the planet about the subject matter has probably never been higher, but there is also an untapped market of 1.62 billion Muslims worldwide who could push this kind of project into blockbuster territory. The rival Sunni offering is working with that economy of scale in mind: produced by Qatari company Alnoor Holdings, it's not one film, but a projected celestial franchise of five to seven instalments aiming to highlight the common ground between the Abrahamaic religions, with a combined budget of $1bn; Barrie Osborne, producer of The Matrix and Lord of the Rings, is on board in an advisory capacity.
Producer Azahar Iqbal, a former climate scientist who grew up in Birmingham, England, says he is partly inspired by Hollywood's superhero films, but aims those kinds of pyrotechnics at the service of more universal, ethical concerns, to show that "power is not concentrated in one individual – but in every individual".
Islamophobia aside, these grandstanding Muhammad epics, as well as the likes of Selam, have the potential to raise the same kind of cynical responses from atheists as Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. After all, you don't have to take the direct route to promote "Muslim values" – and there are plenty of Muslim film-makers who have used less strident methods. But even if you're uncomfortable about these new projects' proselytising side, they also have a healthy focus on interfaith cooperation and cultural dialogue. Iqbal says that Alnoor's series will feature Jesus and other non-Muslim figures, and that it won't be targeted solely at religious communities. Similarly Levent Demirkale, Selam's director, stresses that he was motivated by bigger things than his own religion: "What really affected us were the humanist universal values, such as cooperation of different religions and beliefs, living for other people's happiness, loving human beings, and making sacrifices for others."
You'd have to be naïve to think money wasn't also a factor at play in faith films, as well as the prestige sought by competing countries for successfully putting the cinematic gloss on Muhammad's story. But that story always been subject to reinterpretation and debate, from the hadith forwards. And with Islam now so prominent in global affairs, there's renewed room to pick at this bundle of history and legend once again.
Historian Tom Holland ran into some of the attendant difficulties with his recent revisionist history of the religion's birth, but perhaps doing the job in a medium largely unused for the purpose, partly for a less familiar western audience, will reinvigorate the telling and the truth of it. Iqbal claims his team have an innovative "concept" in mind for the prophet's person and role, radically different to The Message's unsettling gimmick of using POV camera for a Muhammad's-eye-view. This could be an origin story with some actual revelations in it.
• Next week's After Hollywood will focus on the Weinsteins' influence over world cinema. Which global cinematic stories would you like to see covered in the column? Let us know in the comments below.Phil Hoad
The radio stations were on early this morning - was it right and proper for newspapers to publish front pages pictures of a man they called a terrorist brandishing a meat cleaver?
Answer: yes. There are all sorts of arguments in favour. Practical and technological first - pictures and film clips of the incident were across social media within minutes. Newspapers (and TV) would have looked completely daft to ignore what was already in the public domain.
The man wasn't trying to hide from the spotlight. He was aware he was "speaking to camera" in order to deliver "a message" that attempted to justify his unjustifiable act.
It could be said that the media were playing into his hands by giving him the publicity he was seeking. But, given the situation, there was a need to explain. And the pictures lifted from the filmed footage were therefore essential to the exercise.
This was a highly unusual event that, by its very unusualness, warranted an unusual response from the media. It was barbaric, horrific, tragic, senseless… even a collective of adjectives is inadequate to describe what happened.
I agree that the image was appalling. The meat cleaver. The bloodied hands. The obvious rage of the perpetrator. It prompted my two elder grandsons, who mostly ignore the papers on the table in the mornings, to ask all sorts of questions.
On the way to school, the discussion continued. They were, of course, desperate to understand why two men had hacked another man to death in a London street on a spring afternoon.
After I had dropped them off I thought more about the problems all editors faced and, it should be noted, all but one (the counter intuitive Daily Express) took the same decision.
It is possible to argue against publication from two opposing directions: the image of a brazen killer will encourage others to follow suit, leading to more Islamic terrorist outrages; or the image will encourage anti-Muslim feeling and generate Islamophobia.
But media editors, while wishing to avoid provoking anti-social and criminal behaviour, cannot be responsible for far-fetched consequences of their decision to publish news stories. Editors cannot edit in order to ensure they protect us from the feeble-minded. It would make the job impossible and, taken to its logical conclusions, nothing would ever get published.
Editors also confronted a second problem in whether to carry pictures of the dead man's body, which also required them to pause for thought. Would it be regarded as an intrusion into the grief of his relatives? Would it be regarded as tasteless?
Again, on balance, I think the newspapers were correct because they needed to convey the brutality of a murder that appeared to have been carried out as an act of terrorism. It was shocking to see it but it was even more shocking that it happened at all.
There may be objections later that the pictured men cannot expect to get a "fair" trial. I somehow feel that a judge will laugh any such legal quibble out of court.
Newspaper editors, in trying to do their job - in company with television news editors - were confronted with a bizarre and barbarous act. They had to react as they did.Roy Greenslade