The whole country was shocked by the barbarity of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich a fortnight ago. As we recover from the initial shock, the question that confronts us – not just politicians, but all of us – is how should we respond? We should start by asking how the murderers would want us to respond - and then do the exact opposite.
Adebowale, Adebolajo and those who share their ideology want to divide our society into Muslims and non-Muslims. They believe there is an unbridgeable gap between the West and Islam. In that sense, they have much in common with the English Defence League and others on the far right of British politics.
And they are both wrong. Of course religion can divide us if we let it. It has done so plenty of times in human history. But there are also plenty of examples of Christians, Muslims and people of other religions living peacefully alongside each other. If you have Muslim neighbours or colleagues at work, you won’t need convincing. But maybe your perception of Islam is shaped solely by what you see on TV or read in the papers – the murder of Drummer Rigby, the 7/7 bombings, 9/11. If so, let me reassure you that the actions of those responsible for these atrocities are no more representative of British Muslims than those of IRA bombers were of Irish Catholics. The South Norwood Islamic Community Centre in my constituency isn’t just a masjid, it’s part of the community. It hosts visits from local schools. It’s a venue for the annual South Norwood Arts Festival. I hold surgeries there.
Yes we face a threat from extremists but the vast majority of British Muslims don’t share Adebowale and Adebolajo’s ideology – indeed, they regard it as a perversion of Islam. If we let the actions of Adebowale and Adebolajo turn us against millions of our fellow citizens, they will have achieved what they set out to do, we will be doing a grave injustice to people who share our values and our society will be much the poorer.
The right response is to come together, not drift apart. We must make a concerted effort to get to know each other better, to understand each other’s beliefs, to dispel ignorance and prejudice and most of all to confront the ideology of both Drummer Rigby’s murderers and the far right.
In today’s globalised world, Croydon’s diversity can be a great strength. But events in Woolwich a fortnight ago and the reaction of the far right since then remind us that there are people in our society who don’t share British values. We have turned a blind eye to them for too long. It’s time to stand up for what we believe in.