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.

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