Since two men butchered British soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich in the name of Islam last week, there's been a worrying rise in Islamophobia. Social networks were immediately plagued with morons tweeting stuff like, "I ain't racist….but I fucking hate dirty fucking Muslim paki bastards," and the EDL have capitalised on Rigby's murder as much as they possibly can, staging marches all over the country to spout idiotic propaganda about every British Muslim being a murderous fanatic.
Unlike the EDL's Stella-toting thugs, the lion's share of Britain realise that the Woolwich murderers aren't at all representative of Islam – that they're just a couple of intensely misguided maniacs who aren't particularly fond of Britain's foreign policy. Nonetheless, a group of Muslims, along with some non-Muslim supporters, gathered in Ilford yesterday to show their solidarity with Lee Rigby's family and make the point that the vast majority of Muslims aren't homicidal extremists who kill people in broad daylight and wait for the police to turn up and shoot at them.
When I arrived at the march, the turnout wasn’t quite what I'd hoped for. This wasn't exactly the media scrum I'd expected and the local news hounds who had turned up looked pretty dismayed. One told me that she'd heard there was a mosque around the corner that hadn't been informed about the event, which seems kind of odd but I guess explains why hardly anyone showed up.
Poorly organised and small in number though they may have been, I had an inkling that the people who had turned up were going to be more representative of Muslim attitudes than Lee Rigby’s killers. So once they'd finished their march and speeches, I had a chat with a few of the demonstrators.
Natascha Shaikh, community activist, and Labour councillor Afzal Akram.
VICE: What was your initial reaction to the murder of Lee Rigby?
Natascha: Shock. Horror. Living in London, you don’t think something like this could happen on your street. We were mortified that it was done in the name of Islam. I’m a Muslim, I follow Islam, I’m not an Islamist. I think we need to distinguish between the two now.
Akram: London’s a very cohesive city, so when things like this happen it’s very horrifying. Especially when it’s being done in the name of Islam. This isn’t Islam – it’s not being done in my name or any other Muslim that I’m aware of. This was a criminal act and they should be punished accordingly.
Some people have been quoting certain verses from the Quran and saying that the attack had a lot to do with Islam.
They can quote what they want. You can take any line from any book and quote it and put it into any context you want. The Quran does not preach hatred. Islam is a peace-loving religion. Taking a line and twisting it doesn’t make a difference.
It seems that a high proportion of radical Islamists are recent converts rather than people who have been brought up as Muslims. What do you make of that?
Natascha: I was going to say that. I think there's a lot of attention seeking here – people who aren't integrating into the community that well, so it’s their way of getting attention. These are the people who terrorists will recruit.
Akram: We have to be careful not to tar everyone with the same brush. Not all converts are going to go about killing. But some people seem to be finding the wrong people to teach them what Islam is about. They get taught the wrong thing and convert for the wrong reasons. I was born into a Muslim family and I learnt not just from the Imams at the mosque, but the culture, family and friends around me.
Imam Ahmed, Ilford Mosque: That mentality has no concern with Islam. Islam condemns terrorism. First of all, we are human beings. We are cousins. There is the prophet Adam and we are his offspring.
Shakir Qureshi, founding chairman of think-tank Karwan e Fikar UK (holding the loudspeaker).
Shakir Qureshi: The Muslims of Britain think the murder of Lee Rigby wasn’t an act of Islam. We can’t accept that a member of our community could do that kind of thing. We condemn it strongly and stand with the family of Lee Rigby.
What do you make of the backlash against Muslims?
EDL and BNP people have attacked me on Facebook regarding this walk – using dirty language against me, against my community, against my religion. This is not correct. They’re trying to create a fuss. We can’t allow such people to harass us, to disturb our way of living and to create the feeling that Muslims are against Christians or Christians are against Muslims.
Do you think it's problematic to blame the murder on radical Islam when the killers mostly talked to the cameras about foreign policy rather than theological issues?
Authorities and communities have to sit down and think about these problems as early as possible. For instance, the story about weapons of mass destruction was fake, and so many people in Iraq have been killed because of it. These types of things must stop. I’ve been doing demonstrations about drone attacks in Pakistan because innocent people are being killed there. But if I demonstrate for those innocent people, I must demonstrate for this innocent man who has been murdered very brutally on the street. It’s totally barbaric.
Paul Salahuddin Armstong, co-director of The Association of British Muslims.
Can we really say that Lee Rigby's murder had nothing to do with Islam when the killers were shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is great)?
Paul Salahuddin: You’ve got to look at what the normative tradition of Islam is. You can get verses from the Bible or any book and make out that those books preach murder, which – as a whole – they don’t. The normative tradition of Islam would see murder as a very serious crime. You really have to look at what Islam is saying and not what some nutcase is saying, or what someone who is mentally disturbed and commits murder on the streets of Britain is saying.
What do you think of radical preachers such as Anjem Choudary who refused to condemn the murder?
I’m tempted to say, “Who?” I know who he is, but he doesn’t have any recognition from the Muslims of this country or anywhere else in the world. He’s not a scholar, he’s not an imam – who is this guy? If you got some random, crazy southern Baptist off the streets of America and said, “Here’s the view of Christianity,” and he’s saying, “Nuke Iran!” or something, obviously that’s not the view of all Christians.
Do you think there's a problem with the radicalisation of young Muslims?
What these people are doing isn't acting in accordance with Islam anyway, so let’s make that absolutely clear.
Sure. But the Muslim Public Affairs Committee said not enough has been done to reach out to young people. Do you think there's a difficulty in making people see Islam the "right" way?
There's a issue with regard to education in the mosques where people are taught to recite Quranic Arabic and aren't taught what it means, how to understand it or the teachings of traditional Arabic scholars in plain English. There are mosques working to rectify this and there are good examples and bad examples.
A lot of radical Islamists seem to be recent converts. Why do you think that might be?
The way I converted was from education, reading and research. Some people convert in prisons or on the streets – not very educated people. They’re vulnerable to be misled because they haven’t done the research, so they don’t know what it’s about. Whether it’s a group of radical Christians or radical Muslims, you get the same vulnerable people who get taken advantage of.
Do you think it's weird that Muslims even feel the need to apologise? It's not as if Christianity was held accountable for the actions of Anders Breivik.
Samad, self-employed: At the end of the day, the image is put on Islam. For that reason we’d like to apologise for what’s happened and say that it’s not what Islam teaches. We hope the family can understand that. We understand that it’s extremely hard for the family. I know we can’t bring their son, father and husband back, but we’re deeply sorry and want to clearly say that this is not the way.
What do you think of radical preachers?
In my eyes they’re not normal. I hope they get the message that we don’t want to hear their messages, we don’t want to hear what they’ve got to say. Just back off and let people practice their religion in peace. The government should be targeting these radical preachers. Then maybe terrorism would stop.
How should they do that?
Twitter, Facebook, the internet – controlling that and looking at it. If there was zero tolerance we wouldn’t have this problem.
That sounds a bit dodgy from a civil liberties point of view.
Let’s just put it this way: If you’re innocent, you’ve got nothing to hide. Let it be big brother and bring this country to peace.
I'm not sure about that last bit, but thanks anyway, Samad.
Follow Simon on Twitter: @SimonChilds13
More stuff about the murder in Woolwich: