Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The real enemy in London hacking death

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 11:00 AM EDT, Thu May 23, 2013
Flowers lay outside Woolwich Barracks in London, near where a British soldier was butchered in the street.
Flowers lay outside Woolwich Barracks in London, near where a British soldier was butchered in the street.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: We want to believe hacking suspects are crazy to explain the atrocity
  • Ghitis: But it appears, as it has so often, radical Islamist ideology fueled attack
  • Islam, Muslims or terrorism are not the enemy, she says. It is this murderous ideology
  • Ghitis: We need campaigns in Muslim communities everywhere against its appeal

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns.

(CNN) -- When a man with hands drenched in blood stands just feet away from the body of a person he just hacked to death, still holding the murder weapons, we want to believe he must be crazy. How else can our minds grasp the evidence that someone would carry out an act of such inconceivable brutality?

We don't yet know all the details surrounding Wednesday's killing in London. But the fact is we have seen this type of attack before, and even before one of the suspects started ranting to passers-by, we had a pretty good idea what to expect. This killing of a young British soldier was not an act of insanity. It was part of a pattern that has struck in many parts of the world before. This was the product of extreme Islamist radicalism we have all come to recognize.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

Some will rush to blame Muslims or Islam for what happened, but it's important to be clear and not to mince words.

Islam is not the enemy. Muslims are not the enemy. Terrorism is not the enemy.

The enemy is the radical Islamist ideology that justifies any atrocity committed for political motives. The enemies are the people who promote this dogma and encourage others to engage in actions that offend and assault our humanity -- and theirs.

As information started trickling in from London, the familiar phrases started emerging, confirming our initial suspicions and no doubt disheartening Muslims who would like to see their religion stop having any association with these atrocities. Witnesses said they heard the two men shouting "Allahu Akbar" as they worked to dismember their victim. They say one of them breathlessly declared "By almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone."

A similar attack happened a few years ago in Amsterdam. The Dutch filmmaker and columnist Theo van Gogh was assassinated and nearly decapitated by a Muslim radical angered by van Gogh's work criticizing Islam.

The London murderers apparently justified their butchery as resentment over Western troops fighting in Muslim lands. "Muslims are dying daily," the man with the bloody hands said. But before accepting that argument at face value, consider that radical Islamists have found other reasons to slaughter those who offend them. And the threshold for triggering brutality seems rather movable.

Man who taped London suspect speaks out
Tensions running high in London
London attack suspect caught on video

The Islamist radical who murdered van Gogh, Mohammed Bouyeri, used a knife to pin a letter to his victim's body, explaining his actions and threatening to kill Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an ex-Muslim and friend of the director, who remains a fierce critic of Islam. The letter is a screed against Jews and an attempt to intimidate anyone who speaks critically of Islam.

Islamist radicalism provided the twisted justification for the Boston Marathon bombings, for the videotaped decapitation of journalist Daniel Pearl, for the shooting rampage of Maj. Nidal Hassan, who killed 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas. And let's not forget 9/11, the crown jewel of murderous achievements.

Their political/religious ideology has motivated killers in Madrid, London, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, as well as Syria, Nigeria, Indonesia and Iraq. The creed that demands murder, sometimes murder-suicide, for perceived offenses against Islam and against Muslims constitutes a threat to societies at large, not just to Westerners and non-Muslims. In fact, a study finds that Muslims are its most numerous victims.

While police were still working the crime scene in London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the attack was probably an act of terrorism.

The question of whether this particular incident falls under the label of terrorism is not particularly useful. We will hear discussions about whether the perpetrators belonged to a larger organization or were, instead, "lone wolves" or "self-radicalized." In the end, the purpose was political intimidation, and inciting fear was its political objective. For what it's worth, that's terrorism. But that does not identify the enemy that must be fought.

The killing in broad daylight in London's Woolwich neighborhood belongs in the category of Islamist radical attacks, the same that brought 9/11, the Boko Haram massacres in Nigeria, restaurant bombings in Tel Aviv, night club killings in Bali, street explosions in Baghdad, hotel bombings in Amman and many other massacres in many countries. Each incident has its own peculiarities, its own list of grievances. But they all contain the same explosive ideology.

Most Muslims strongly oppose this kind of brutality. But a recent Pew poll showed significant minorities favor actions such as suicide bombings "in defense of Islam." A troubling 29% of Egyptian Muslims say suicide bombings can be justified, so do 40% of Muslims in the Palestinian Territories, 15% in Jordan and 18% in Malaysia.

The "defense of Islam" means different things to different people. Extremists have killed to defend Islam from modern westernized culture. They have killed women for daring to go to school. The victims often have nothing to do with the alleged offense. The Tsarnaev brothers' victims in Boston had nothing to do with the offenses that angered their killers.

An important element in the fight against this pernicious, callous enemy is a campaign to undermine the ideology's appeal within Muslim communities everywhere.

There is much work to do, particularly by the vast majority of Muslims who reject extremism, by their leaders who must be pressured by all of us to make the ironclad case that nothing, nothing in the world, justifies the kind of viciousness that assaulted our senses in London and has done so in too many places for too many years.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT