None of the responses to the Woolwich murder of a soldier, by two Islamists who tried to cut off his head, was revelatory, except for a set of seemingly moderate and sincere statements from British Muslim groups.
While journalists such as Glenn Greenwald and politicians such as Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone claimed the murder was a result of Britain's foreign policy, the response from Muslim community groups was, encouragingly, condemnatory only of the killers.
The Muslim Council of Britain said, "This is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and we condemn this unreservedly." The Muslim Association of Britain stated that they "deplored the horrific attack, murder and mutilation upon an off-duty soldier … They deserve punishment with the full force of the law."
iEngage, an Islamic "civic engagement" organization, added that the "inexpressibly brutal murder on the streets of south London by someone claiming to have a grievance against the British state cannot be justified or excused by any reference to Islam or to its noble teachings." The Islamic Education and Research Academy stated that, "Islam does not condone nor encourage acts of criminality… iERA strongly believes that it is through fostering better understanding of our fellow citizens that will help in uniting our society in good and prevent further acts of violence on our streets."
The most conspicuous lesson from the Islamic reaction has been the almost complete absence of claims that British foreign policy is a root cause of terrorist acts.
Daily Telegraph journalist Cristina Odone wrote that leading Muslim groups' denunciations of the attack, devoid of justification or excuses for the killing, are in stark contrast to many of the Muslim groups' responses to the London bombings in 2005.
Odone concludes, however, that the outright condemnations of the Woolwich murder "prove that Muslim spokesmen are not tacitly supporting jihadists in our midst; and that the Council has learned from its past mistakes … Muslim leaders finally sound like they are on side. Our side."
Odone presumes that Islamist leaders have renounced their extremist beliefs. She does not consider the possibility that Islamist groups may now just be more adept at promoting radical Islamism behind a moderate façade.
As she herself writes, it is the same groups and people who promote violent ideas that are now heralded as brave and important voices of moderation. Odone notes: "The Muslim Association of Britain approved of suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq. Dr Azzam Tamimi, a senior member of the association, said that given a chance to go to Israel, 'I would sacrifice myself; it's the straight way to pleasing my God.' The Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Inayat Bunglawala, later defended this sentiment on Radio 4."
Similarly, the iERA, which described the Woolwich murder as an "act of criminality" includes among its organization three preachers who have been banned from entering Britain because of their support for terrorism and their expressed hatred towards Jews.
iEngage, which claimed the Woolwich attack "cannot be justified or excused," is an extreme Islamist group with a long history of supporting terrorist groups and Holocaust deniers.
Ajmal Masroor, as another example, has been widely praised for his expression of disgust for extremism in general, and the Woolwich attack in particular, stated during an interview with Sky News. The media considers Masroor, previously an advisor on religious affairs to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, to be a leading moderate voice among the British Muslim community.
Masroor, however, is the spokesman for the Harrow Central Mosque, which publicly supports IslamOnline, the website of Yusuf Qaradawi -- an Egyptian cleric who praises Hitler and supports suicide bombings against Jews -- and the Islamic Forum of Europe, a British front group of the violent Islamist organization Jamaat-e-Islami -- whose leaders have been convicted of mass-murder, rape, torture and kidnapping during the 1971 Bangladesh war.
Masroor's mosque provides a platform for Islamist extremists such as Murtaza Khan, who has said:
"Those whom the wrath of Allah is upon, is the Jews, is the Christians. We have become Jews in our clothing, Jews in our eating, Jews in everything that we do, and the other half is Christian in everything we do. Muslims are following one of these accursed nations. And people are still not waking up to understand the fact that these people are enemies towards us."
Is it unfair, therefore, to label these Muslim groups and commenters as "extremist" if they have denounced the Woolwich killings, even wholeheartedly?
It would be far easier to embrace the sincerity of these groups if they had also stopped promoting extremist hate preachers and voicing support for terror groups abroad.
If politicians and journalists, instead of working with genuine moderates, instead praise the reactions of groups that still aggressively promote Islamism, we legitimize such voices as the future of British Islam, while doing nothing to prevent the continued radicalization.
Both Woolwich and Boston demonstrated that terrorists seem to be increasingly self-radicalized. The British government has acknowledged that proposals to introduce "extra powers" to monitor email and phone records would not have stopped the Woolwich murder. The Boston bombers found their inspiration in the widely available al-Qaeda magazine, "Inspire," as well as YouTube videos produced by Western Islamist preachers.
If there are fewer networks, it is harder, often impossible, to track home-grown terrorists successfully. To combat self-radicalized Islamists, then, the security services and police must target the resources used for radicalization. Instead, the Woolwich killings led to expressions of admiration for many of the groups who do promote Islamist ideas, despite their carefully worded public statements.
While these organizations may not openly incite acts of violence, they offer the platform to the preacher that does.