One of the killers stands square to the camera, drenched in blood with meat-cleaver in hand. In a second photo the other killer still holds his knife, but is being confronted by an absurdly normal looking young woman — just another Londoner going about her business when two men decided to bring their conception of justice to the capital’s streets.
Last month Boston, this month London — the threat changes but does not disappear. The two killers deliberately drove over a British soldier as he left London's Woolwich barracks, stabbed him to death, and apparently decapitated his corpse. This savage attack reduces to crystal clarity the complexities of a protracted struggle: medieval barbarity must be kept at bay, and the values of liberty and decency must never be compromised.
The killers claim that they were justified in butchering Drummer Lee Rigby because British soldiers have killed Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan: "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." There will be those who will draw parallels between this brutal act and the impact of British and American policy in the Middle East. They will point to the thousands of innocents who have died as a result of military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the feelings of victimisation and betrayal felt by many Muslims at the way we have supported and then deposed dictators at whim, bombed great cities, and failed to prevent soldiers from torturing prisoners.
Our failures are real. Britain and its agents have behaved unethically at times, and done harm through ignorance and carelessness at others. However, for all these faults and errors, Britain is defined by values that are important and moreso, correct. British soldiers were not sent to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan to fight Islam, but because (rightly or wrongly) Britain's leaders believed it was necessary to protect our country, our allies, and our values. The extremists who have again murdered on British soil offer nothing but hatred, and have repeatedly demonstrated that they are prepared to commit any horror to undermine our society.
While we must never close our ears to criticism or cease seeking to remedy the legitimate grievances that some have against us, we can never afford to allow our openness in admitting our failures to blunt our condemnation of the crimes of our enemies. Nor should we become ambiguous in supporting the values that make Western civilisation something worth fighting for.
After 9/11, NATO activated Article 5 — "the article of faith" — for the first time in its history. With this act all the NATO states agreed to treat the attacks on America as an attack on them all. For me this was more than just a sympathetic gesture. For me it symbolised the recognition that us citizens of the West must share a common fate — kinned not so much by common blood or history as by shared values.
Democracy, freedom, and tolerance are the imperfect fruit of centuries of bloody wars and peaceful struggle. Whatever our faults, we must continue to stand together to protect these values from those who have again proved themselves prepared to go to such barbaric lengths to undermine them.