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Woolwich attack: is community cohesion in tatters?

HORROR: Adebolajo after the bloody attack

AS SOON as one of the two suspects in the Woolwich attack was identified as a British Nigerian and Muslim convert, the response, particularly on social media, was a mixture of anti-immigrant rhetoric, racism and hate.

The brutal murder in broad daylight of 25 year-old serving solider Lee Rigby on May 22, left the nation and the world in shock.

Rigby, a father-of-one, of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, had fought in Afghanistan and was wearing a Help for Heroes T-shirt when he was run over by two men who then hacked him with a meat cleaver.

The attack was unequivocally condemned by faith groups including the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Nigeria UK.

But many fear that even the show of support will do little to deter other radicals who will use the tragedy as a means to further their own cause, and fuel anti-Muslim and racist sentiment.

This concern was heightened when more than 100 members of the far-right English Defence League supporters (EDL) took to the streets of Woolwich, southeast London, just hours after the attack.

Some wore balaclavas printed with the EDL logo and began throwing bottles and other missiles at the police near Woolwich Arsenal train station.


Elsewhere, two separate attacks took place on a local mosque in Braintree, Essex, and another in Gillingham, Kent, resulting in a man and woman being arrested. Over the weekend, a fire broke out at an Islamic centre in Bradford after a petrol bomb attack. Two men have been charged.

FACES OF HATE: Masked members of the EDL and leader Tommy Robinson, left, clashed with police in Woolwich

Faith Matters, an organisation that works to reduce extremism, said it had logged more than 150 anti-Muslim attacks, both online and in person in the last few days, compared to between four to eight cases before Wednesday.

In Woolwich, an area which has a large Somali community, many residents voiced fears of going out late at night.

Michael Collins, from Hope not Hate, an organisation that campaigns against the British National Party’s (BNP) and English Defence League’s (EDL) politics of hate told The Voice there were challenging times ahead.

He said: “The first week after something like this is always the hardest and most challenging, as that’s when the outrage is the most – we call it the crisis period.”

In his speech in the wake of the attack, Prime Minister David Cameron called for unity having emerged from a Cobra meeting in which community tensions were on the agenda.

He said: “We will never give in to terror or terrorism in any of its forms. Second, this view is shared by every community in our country. This was not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act.”


However, in a society still plagued by racism despite the positive changes that came out of the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and the subsequent Macpherson report in 1999, community cohesion is still fragile.

The 2011 riots left London in turmoil though communities stood united as they cleaned up the streets.

HEALING: A man repairs a window at a mosque in Gillingham

The following year, the Olympics celebrated Britain’s diversity.

But now in the wake of the Woolwich attack there are concerns this will become undone. Collins revealed that the number of EDL’s Facebook followers had already tripled and was rising.

He said: “This attack in Woolwich has given racism a fresh impetus. The EDL were dead in the water, and it looked like the organisation wouldn’t survive for another month.”

Dr Rob Berkeley from the Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading independent race equality think tank, said that the challenge now was how deal with extremists who were un-policeable.

He said: “What’s been great is the way the community leaders have spoken out against what happened. I think that the Prime Minster and the Mayor [of London] have focused on how the attack is being condemned by Muslims and as well as everybody else. In south London, there has been a rejection of the EDL position on this to try and stir up trouble.”

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