On Woolwich and other lands


“We must fight them,” Michael Adebolajo stated, as he brandished a blood-drenched meat cleaver.

“I apologise that women had to witness this today. But in our land, our women have to see the same...tell them to bring our troops back, so you can all live in peace.”

Captured on video by a pedestrian’s cellphone, the now-infamous speech, made outside London’s Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich by a hip-looking Brit of Nigerian origin speaking in a south London accent, was shocking.

Not just because of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby that he’d just committed, along with his accomplice Michael Adebowale. But, also, because of the sense of displacement he was communicating.

What on earth did he mean by “our land” ?

It would have been one thing if he had been of south Asian origin, like three of the four 7/7 bombers, eight years before (one, Germaine Lindsay, had Jamaican parentage).

Though they were also British, it was easier to make superficial connections between their Pakistani backgrounds, and the War on Terror.

Despite the allusions to Islam in Adebolajo’s statement, this would prove a bit more difficult to make sense of.

Journalists were quick to attribute the Woolwich violence to al-Qaeda’s influence.

Muslims are unsafe in non-Islamic societies, and therefore must live amongst their own, governed by Sharia, or religious law, or so their ideology goes.

As understandable as this is (the attackers turned out to be Muslims) there was something incomplete about these analyses, as though the connection-making was itself sufficient.

For this journalist, however, it wasn’t.

As an Israeli, of European background (my family is of Italian-Slavic origins,) I could not help but hear a familiar lament, that we Jews are ultimately the best guarantors of our own safety; that, for all intents and purposes, our well-being lies within our own ranks, in the Middle East, not in Europe.

The parallels, in imagining that minority utopias lie elsewhere, are unmistakable.

By drawing these analogies, I do not mean to conflate Zionism with al-Qaeda. One is European, while the other is Middle Eastern.

One betrays the failings of Europe to guarantee tolerance for minorities, while the other views itself as a force against Occidental imperialism.

Nevertheless, both share a fundamental distrust of the West, one which goes to the heart of Europe’s difficulty with the so-called Other, whether at home, or abroad.

Particularly that of the British.

Hence, Adebolajo’s use of the term “our land.”

Though in reference to “Muslim” territory, what it means is a place of justice and equality, not a faraway state ruled by kheffiyeh-and-kalashnikov Hollywood Islamists quoting the Koran.

Though that may be part of what these guys had in mind, it’s not what we should be hearing in their statements.

Which is why, ultimately, the al-Qaeda bit is unhelpful.

Its concepts may be a vehicle, but it’s pointing at something else.

The question is what.

How else might we appreciate what the Woolwich attackers are actually referring to?

Though hailing from Nigerian immigrant families, they nonetheless remain British, not Africans, or Middle Easterners. There is nowhere else they can rightly call home.

“Our land” also means the United Kingdom.

A very real place, in northern Europe, that does not necessarily require withdrawal from (metaphorically speaking) but, rather, more respect for its growing ethnic diversity, and its increasingly inter-faith character.

Yet, in spite of this, many minority Britons feel increasingly foreign.

Hence, the ease with which they assume identities that mark them as the ultimate undesirables, albeit, violent Islamists.

No wonder they think their destiny appears to lie somewhere else.

British society has done a miserable job of making them feel at home.