Disbelief! Shock! Horror! Outrage! Revulsion! Imagine the worst, sickest emotion you’ve ever felt and quadruple it again and again.
Because that’s what the grotesque slaying on Wednesday of off-duty soldier, Lee Rigby, yards from his barracks in the multi-cultural, south-east London suburb of Woolwich, demands of everyone with a shard of human decency, regardless of race, creed or colour.
In the immediate aftermath of this hideous crime and too early as it is to draw conclusions, it’s safe to state emphatically that this was a terror attack – of the kind that no country outside the lunatic tinderboxes of the Middle East and Asia has suffered – and the two men who committed it had a religious imperative.
That much is transparent from video footage, captured on the cellphones of witnesses, showing the blood-soaked perpetrators proudly wielding butchers cleavers, knives and what’s thought to be a firearm for all to see.
It’s also fair to conclude this was no random attack. The killers were deliberately seeking a target representative of Britain’s military; Woolwich Barracks is home to soldiers who have served honourably in Afghanistan and Iraq, defending Muslims; the victim, in his ‘Help For Heroes’ T-shirt, was undoubtedly a serviceman.
Further, indisputable evidence stacks up. Witnesses say the men – both British nationals – shouted ‘Allahu ahkbar… God is great!’ and spouted arrogantly of ‘an eye for an eye’, ‘You will never be safe’, and ‘We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you.’
Then there’s the grisly nature of the murder itself: death by beheading – a ghastly, medieval form of killing and, uniquely, the official form of execution in several Muslim countries, where human rights are rare as hen’s teeth. There is also an especially horrific degradation about it; a total dehumanisation of the victim.
What many find utterly bizarre is that, before a Met Police armed response unit arrived on the scene, the killers mingled with passers-by, attempting to justify their crazed views on the video apps of witnesses’ cellphones.
They must have known a shoot-out was coming. In fact, the pair charged at CO19 marksmen, as if welcoming what US law enforcers dub as ‘suicide by cop.’ Alas, for these merchants of terror, they were only wounded and denied their ultimate death wish.
So, were the video confessions intended as ‘martyrdom messages’, like those left by suicide bombers, released after blowing themselves to smithereens with as many innocents as possible as part of the lunatic death cult they’ve inflected on mankind? I rather think so.
As more facts emerge – one of the killers has been named as an ex-student from London’s East End, who had converted to Islam a decade ago – there are, inevitably, more questions than answers.
For instance, were the killers, guilty by their own, recorded admissions and statements of hatred, known to British counter-intelligence (apparently yes) and, if so, why were they still at large? And – importantly – who else knew of their appalling mission?
Until a full enquiry establishes all the evidence, it would be folly to rush to judgement on MI5, GCHQ and Special Branch, gatekeepers of the nation’s security, because, since the 7/7 London bombings, their modus operandi has changed dramatically.
They are, for sure, far more proactive and experienced now in identifying wannabe fanatics, as a slew of prosecutions has proved. But, sooner or later, a bunch of covert crazies – ‘clean skins’, as they’re known – would have penetrated the tightest surveillance dragnet. That ever-present danger is the price we pay for living in a free, democratic society.
Remember when the Provisional IRA warned the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, ‘You have to be lucky all the time; we have to be lucky once.’ And the Brighton Grand Hotel bombing, during the 1984 Tory Party Conference, proved just whose luck was in.
Today, the threat of extremism has a completely different dimension. It is not about republicanism, but a clash of credos that engulfs the world and manifests itself in the West – specifically the USA, Britain, Spain and France – via the brutality of young men, many of whom were born and bred in our midst.
How and where their minds were polluted by radicalisation we can only guess. But the seeds must lie within our own Muslim communities and, specifically, with certain cynical, evil individuals, whose anti-Western venom and religious intolerance has corrupted sections of Islamic youth.
So, far from extolling the privileges they’ve enjoyed from life in the free world, they are indoctrinated with poison and urged to avenge what they’re drilled to perceive as insults to their superior faith by committing outrages against their fellow-countrymen and women.
And within the Internet, of course, lies a ready font of hate-preach to underpin such perverted prejudices.
Many reasonable people would contend our politicians have been too accommodating for too long to the demands of Islam. In the last 20 years lashings of cash has been doled out to often self-appointed organisations claiming to represent the Muslim community, but, in common with other faiths, it does not speak with a single voice.
On the contrary, deep fault-lines exist within it – tribal, ethnic and, indeed, religious schisms – that no amount of government bribery or coercion will fix.
But, like every other minority Britain (and Western Europe) has welcomed, it is the task of that community to embrace our long-cherished, democratic values and not for us to bow to theirs. We don’t expect or seek total assimilation and the sacrifice of identity; but we do deserve some degree of integration and respect for liberties that took centuries to win.
If that is too big an ask, why move to Britain (or Western Europe) in the first place? And if you count yourself unlucky to have been born in a land where the freedoms of speech and worship, plus the freedoms from want and from fear, are pillars of our secular faith, no-one forces you to stay.
Everyone, irrespective of faith or a lack of it, has a moral duty of care to the wider community they are parts of and Islam is no exception.
Whatever it does – and the vast majority of Muslims are as peace-loving as their religion decrees – it clearly is still not enough to identify the fanatics in the ranks of its faithful, who are capable of committing heinous atrocities.
We need and demand their help. All our security depends on it.