Brendan O’Neill on yesterday’s brutal murder in Woolwich:
One of the most shocking things about the brutal attack in Woolwich yesterday was the arrogance with which one of the bloodied knifemen claimed to be acting on behalf of all Muslims. In what sounded like a South London accent, this British-seeming, casually dressed young man bizarrely spoke as if he were a representative of the ummah. He talked about “our lands” and what “our people” have to go through every day. He presumably meant Iraqis and Afghanis, or perhaps the broader global “Muslim family”.
How can a couple of men so thoroughly convince themselves that they speak for all Muslims, to the extent that they seriously believe their savage and psychotic attack on a man in the street is some kind of glorious act of Islamic resistance? Perhaps because they live in a country in which claiming to speak “on behalf of” a community, even if you’ve never been elected by or even seriously talked to that community, is taken seriously. A country where one’s identity, one’s racial or religious or cultural make-up, now counts for everything, certainly for more than what one does or what one believes. A country in which the politics of identity, the narrow and deeply divisive communal politics of shared cultural traits, has been privileged over all other kinds of politics.
The Woolwich murderer’s impromptu claim to be acting on behalf of the grievances of Muslims everywhere echoes the statements made by the 7/7 bombers. “Your democratically elected governments continue to perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world”, said chief bomber Mohammad Siddique Khan. “My people” — what extraordinary arrogance and self-righteousness. Did Khan ever talk to “his people” or win a mandate from them? Of course not, no more than the knife-wielding nutter in Woolwich engaged with the inhabitants of what he thinks of as “his lands”. Rather, in this era in which any old fool can claim to be a “community spokesperson”, and can be treated seriously as such, these murderous loners seem to be trying a psychotic version of the same trick — claiming that by dint of shared skin colour or common religious sentiment they have the authority to speak on behalf of millions of people they have never met or whose lands they have never visited.