In a bitter coincidence of timing, Barack Obama announced the scaling down of drone operations by the US government just after the horrific murder of an unarmed man on the streets of Woolwich this week.
It remains to be seen how real or effective Obama’s new policy will be. His assertion that drones should not be used to kill civilians is absurd. Drones have killed civilians time and again. They cannot be used in a way that avoids civilian death. Time and again, claims about the targeting ability of new weapons prove to be untrue.
Nor does the British government plan to cut back on drones. Quite the reverse. They are now operating drones directly from the UK. Previously, UK drones were operated by RAF staff in the US.
Cameron, Clegg and their colleagues have rightly condemned the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. Neither the fact that Rigby was a soldier, nor any policy of the UK government, can justify this vicious attack. Almost everyone, including all the major Muslim organisations in the UK, has condemned the killing.
Many have also condemned the predictable response of the EDL, BNP and other far-right thugs. There have been several attacks on mosques, as well as verbal and physical abuse of Muslims, since the Woolwich murder. Two years ago, when Anders Brevik claimed that Christianity had motivated his murder of 77 people in Norway, there were no attacks on churches. Today, the organisation Faith Matters reported that they had chronicled 150 incidents of anti-Muslim abuse or violence since Wednesday.
This is just the sort of conflict that violent Islamic fundamentalists wish to promote. Islamic fundamentalists and the British far-right need each other. Attacks by one provoke attacks from the other, perpetuating senseless violence, usually against people who are neither fascist nor fundamentalist. Each group pretends that the other is representative of what they are fighting – be it Islam or western society. Hatred feeds off hatred.
In the midst of this horror, we are faced with the image of Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, the woman who calmly spoke with the killers, risking her own life but possibly preventing further bloodshed. I am sure that many people have this week been challenged by her inspiring example.
Unfortunately, some of those who praise don’t follow through on the example of active nonviolence that her behaviour represents. Although mainstream politicians condemn the anti-Muslim violence, few of them are doing so as loudly as they are speaking about Woolwich. Worse still, there are many murders that they do not condemn at all. The drones that rain down death on innocent Afghan civilians are no more justified than a murder with a meat cleaver in Woolwich.
There are those who say that this is not the time to talk about the UK government’s foreign policy. But how can there be a time when it is not right to talk about the killing of innocent people? We would all be disgusted if someone told Lee Rigby’s family not to talk about his death. Are we prepared to tell the mother of a child killed in Afghanistan that this is not the right time to be talking about it?
This is precisely the time to be talking about it. Indeed, if we are to be consistent and act with integrity, then we must talk about it. The Woolwich murderers appeared to believe that the killings in Afghanistan and elsewhere justified a killing in London. They do not. Nor does Rigby’s killing justify attacks on Muslims in Britain. And none of these events make it acceptable for people on any side to be killing innocent people on the other side of the world.
This week’s newspapers have been full of pictures of Michael Adebolajo, his hands covered in blood. The hands of David Cameron and Barack Obama may look a lot cleaner. This is only because they kill at a distance. When it comes to responsibility for death, Cameron and Obama are up to the waist in blood. If we are to have integrity as we condemn the vicious murder of Lee Rigby, we must be prepared to say so.