It is too early to know exactly what happened in Woolwich this afternoon, but it seems very likely it was a terrorist killing of a British soldier by Islamic extremists.
Shortly after it emerged it could be a terrorist attack, a hashtag appeared online: #notinmyname. The Muslims who expressed this sentiment had honourable motives, but it is a mistake. They do not need to condemn what has happened. This killing has no more to do with them than it does with the rest of us.
Doing so suggests Muslims are somehow more responsible for the attack than other Brits. It vindicates the central message of Islamic extremists: that we are not, ultimately, British. We are Christians, Muslims and Sikhs, endlessly divided by race and faith and culture.
This is false. It has always been false. We are Brits first.
When World War Two began, many intellectuals openly wondered how long it would take for British society to collapse into civil chaos. People assumed a society so strained by inequality and competing political groups could never withstand such pressure. To a very important extent, France failed to do so. In Britain, the essential solidarity of the people prevailed.
It prevailed during the Blitz. It prevailed during the IRA strikes. And it prevailed after 7/7. This is as diverse a society as any in the history of mankind. But it is British, and united, regardless of race or religion or even income. There is no reason to mention such things in day-to-day life. But on days like today, we should proclaim them proudly.
Muslims have nothing to apologise for and nothing to justify. They are no more culpable for what happened this afternoon than I am for the insane rants of Nick Griffin.
ITV today showed footage of a black man dressed in western clothes, his hands covered in blood, talking to the camera. "In our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe," he says.
And yet he speaks in a London accent. This is his land.
Now we will have to undertake the solemn, confusing, despairing process of understanding how people who live in our society could do this to other people in it. That is the debate which should take place. How can Britain still be so beset with alienation that these events could take place?
But that is a question for Brits to answer: not for British Muslims alone. In so far as anyone outside the killers is culpable, we are all culpable.
And when we answer this question, we should remember the following piece of information: After they dragged his body into the road, a group of women crowded around the body and protected it from the assailants. That's why he mentioned the women in the first place. Because they were brave enough to stand between thugs and their victim.
Those women represented Britain too.
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