Ask most people in the United Kingdom today whether Islamic State (IS) had successfully attacked the country and they will almost certainly reply “no”.
They will point to attacks in France or Belgium or Germany, but they will say that Britain has so far escaped without violence.
This assumption is dangerous and wrong. IS attacked Britain 12 months ago, and nobody noticed.
Radicalised from afar, and mirroring a similarly horrific attack against a French priest which had garnered international media coverage not long before, two young men bludgeoned a 71-year-old English-Bangladeshi cleric to death with a hammer in Rochdale last February.
This clergyman wasn’t a Catholic priest though, nor an Anglican vicar, nor was he a rabbi. Each of those would surely and rightly have garnered front-page news. After all, the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby had been a major, major news story.
So we know that it only takes one death for the media to show interest – as long as it is the right kind of victim.
In Rochdale, however, the victim was a Muslim imam. Suddenly, the narrative of “IS versus the West” or “the Muslims versus everyone else” or “Islam versus Christianity and Judaism” made a little less sense.
Jalal Uddin, the 71-year-old imam who bled out as his killers stood over him filming – as the terrorists had done when they killed the French Catholic priest in Normandy – was IS’s first victim in Britain. What was remarkable was how little attention was paid to his murder. This was almost certainly because Uddin was a Muslim.
Almost exactly a year ago, 21-year-old Mohammed Syeedy appeared in court on the outskirts of Manchester charged with Uddin’s murder. A former steward at Old Trafford and a Muslim, Syeedy told the court he was a peaceful man.
He told them he had known Alan Henning, a hostage killed by the Islamic State in October 2014, and so he himself couldn’t possibly be a terrorist. He had travelled to Syria to hand out aid, not pick up a gun.
On Syeedy’s phone, however, police had found IS propaganda and footage of Uddin dying. At his home, they found more IS propaganda. These were strange things to possess if Syeedy was indeed a peaceful man.
Syeedy’s alleged accomplice in the murder, Mohammed Abdul Kadir, had fled the country three days after the attack took place. Counter-terrorism detectives traced him to Istanbul, and believe he crossed the border to join IS.
In the trial, Syeedy positioned himself as the get-away driver only – blaming the attack on Kadir alone. The jury did not believe him. He was sentenced to 24 years to life imprisonment. The Crown Prosecution Service said that Syeedy had been “inspired by the teachings of Daesh” and that “the poisonous ideology of Daesh cannot be allowed to sow division in our society”.
What Syeedy and his accomplice, Mohammed Abdul Kadir, had done was commit the first successful Islamic State terrorist attack on British soil – by killing not a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu or a Sikh or an atheist, but a Muslim.
The major national newspapers all covered the story briefly, but not one newspaper put it on their front page. Their columnists, paid to comment on the biggest stories of the day, didn’t offer their thoughts. Number Ten didn’t call for a hurried press conference, announce they were going to bomb somewhere new or deploy troops or tighten up border security.
David Cameron didn’t even issue a statement. Parliament was not recalled to offer their condolences to Uddin’s family. The home secretary did not announce sweeping new terrorism legislation designed to hold citizens without charge for even lengthier periods of time or snoop on yet more aspects of our personal communications, as has become traditional after all terrorism attacks on British soil.
There was also no statement from the Home Office – surprising given its responsibility for counter-terrorism. None of the standard rigmarole happened, and all because Uddin was a Muslim.
It should be a fairly obvious point to make: the people most threatened by groups like IS are not Westerners or non-Muslims, but Muslims living in Muslim-majority countries. Uddin was killed because he was a Muslim – but, for his killers, the wrong kind of Muslim (the pair accused him of practicing “black magic”).
Between 2001 and 2015, according to figures from the Global Terrorism Database, 75 percent of all terrorism attacks occurred in Muslim countries, claiming 126,000 casualties. In that same time period, 3,689, of which 2,996 died on 9/11, were killed in the West.
In the 18 months after IS proclaimed its caliphate in June 2014, the group’s French victims (135) came a distant fourth to those killed in Muslim-majority Egypt (289), Muslim-majority Yemen (250) and mainly northern, Muslim-majority Nigeria (271). The top three capitals hit by IS were the Muslim-majority city of Maiduguri in Nigeria, then Riyadh – capital of Saudi Arabia which hosts the two most holy sites in the Muslim faith, Mecca and Medina, and then in third place Sanaa, capital of Muslim-majority Yemen.
According to a New York Times analysis of the group from September 2014 to July 2016, not even half of its international casualties have been killed in “attacks that targeted Westerners,” which were far less frequent than attacks targeting Muslim countries.
Once you start factoring in estimated victims not just of international terrorism efforts by the group, but on the ground in Syria and Iraq – the proportion of Western victims falls yet further. Their formal executions programme alone has claimed at least 2,000 – over six times the numbers of Westerners killed. Another 4,000 are thought to be in just one heavily mined mass grave outside of Mosul. A year ago, the UN estimated that the anti-IS conflict in Iraq had already generated 50,000 civilian casualties, the vast majority of whom will have been Muslims of some description.
When we look at IS attacks, the common narrative is that they are Muslim terrorists coming to attack the Christian or the liberal West. Muslims, including British Muslims, are blamed.
Yet the death of Jalal Uddin confounds that world view spectacularly – as do the number of Muslims suffering both in IS-held territory and in their bloody attacks around the world. This is almost certainly why the British media, who have since 2001, either explicitly or implicitly, built up the narrative of Islam versus the West, failed to register Uddin’s terrorist assassination, even though it came at the hands of one of the most feared terrorist organisations in the world.
Had Uddin been a vicar, the story would surely have been very different.