Woolwich terror attack: Muslims shouldn't have to distance themselves

They bear no more responsibility for jihadism than Christians do for the Ku Klux Klan.

We will have truly progressed as a society when Muslims no longer feel the need to distance themselves from the acts of terror performed by their supposed co-religionists. They bear no more responsibility for jihadism than Christians do for the Ku Klux Klan or the Westboro Baptist Church (or, more pertinently, than the English do for the EDL). To suggest, as Pauline Neville Jones, the former security minister, did on the Today programme this morning, that they have a special duty to condemn the Woolwich attack is to perpetuate the myth of collective guilt. 

But the resounding condemnations issued by Islamic groups did give the lie to claims that British Muslims have a sneaking sympathy for such acts. That did not prevent attacks on them (inaccurately described as "reprisals") and mosques beginning just hours after the incident was reported. The English Defence League, never failing to sink to the occasion, marched into Woolwich, where its members chanted anti-Muslim slogans and threw bottles at police. Elsewhere, in Braintree, Essex, a 43-year-old man was arrested after reportedly walking into a mosque with a knife. The local MP Brooks Newmark said: "Just met with leaders of local mosque in Braintree which was attacked this evening. Thanked local police for their swift response." In Kent, police were called after reports of criminal damage at a mosque in Gillingham and a man was arrested and held in custody. 

The secretary of the Essex mosque, Sikander Saleemy, told Channel 4 News: "It was an appalling act of terror – but it wasn't Islamic in any way. I wish it wasn't described like that, because sadly people will now start to blame Muslims." His words were a reminder of the need for the media to report such events as carefully and responsibly as possible. With the exception of The Sun (which spoke of "Muslim fanatics") and the Daily Mail ("Islamic fanatics"), the papers have wisely avoided using the terms "Islam" or "Muslims" on their front pages. As the grim attacks last night showed, loose talk of "Islamic terrorism" is not just wrong but dangerous at moments like this. 

Crime Officers at the scene in Woolwich following the attack in which a soldier was killed. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.