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Use Woolwich for Good. #uwfg

May 23, 2013

Update on an Update. It’s now November 2013, and the Woolwich killing is prominent in the media again due to the trial. I don’t think anything we’ve learned about the accused has changed the reaction I posted in May – below. I got a lot of positive feedback via Twitter, but no comments on this blog. So I don’t know if anyone actually did what I suggested. Public reaction is less ‘hot’ now – but maybe there’s still a reason to ‘Use Woolwich for Good’ #uwfg

[29th November 2013]


[In response to feedback, I’m putting the recipe up front. The article explains my reasons for doing the following…

  1. Think of someone in your street or neighbourhood who you haven’t spoken to; someone you don’t really know. Ideally it should be someone you might otherwise not get to know. It may be someone who looks different, appears to be from a different faith or culture to you. Or just someone who you assume ‘keeps themselves to themselves’.
  2. Make an effort. Go and knock on their door and say hello. Explain that it’s your way of doing a very small thing to undo the horror of the Woolwich attack. One way of the majority drawing together against this madness and the effect it can have on communities.
  3. WARNING: It can feel awkward or embarrassing to do something this simple. But pluck up the courage anyway.
  4. WARNING: You may actually make a new friend!
  5. Share your story with me in a Comment on this blog, or tweet – including the hashtag #uwfg – just to record a small victory
  6. I will count and collect your stories – they become something visible that we can show as good coming out of bad. Each story, like the flowers laid outside Woolwich Barracks, can act as a small act of remembrance and may be some acknowledgement and consolation to the family of Lee Rigby.
  7. If you get a good result – do it again, and maybe ask your new acquaintance to do the same.
  8. If you like the idea – whether you feel brave enough to try it yourself or not – then share it any way you can, offline or online, and use your own friends and neighbourhood groups to create and collect more stories.

OK – here’s why it matters…]

When enough information came through about yesterday’s killing in Woolwich – that the killers were invoking Islam and a global Islamist conflict, I had one thought. A brutal bloody killing in plain view, in an ordinary London suburb, with a backing track of ranting about crudely drawn divisions.

I thought, “This is how it can start”.

The EDL protest around Woolwich Arsenal train station, and the reported individuals’ attacks on mosques this morning, just added to that thought.

Maybe the killers were deranged,  alienated people who just seized on a doctrine of conflict to make sense of their own lives, to ‘be somebody’. Or we may find they were connected to others with more of a plan. [The latter, by the way, is what would have to be the case before we could really talk of “terrorism”.]

Either way,  even if the killers were not sophisticated enough to have such motives themselves, the goal of the doctrine, and the purpose of the act, is to spread conflict and violence and to split societies. By turning people against each other, the architects of radicalism would universalise the conflict they believe in. They would make it true, and so confirm a world view that makes sense of their own lives, gives them a purpose and makes them important.

Acts like this create temporary cracks in the fabric of society.  Other groups with a similar agenda, but a different side or cause, welcome the chance to pile in with crowbars  to work away at those cracks. Maybe then a few more people get hurt or scared… by true stories or by false rumours. That persuades yet more people that there really is a conflict here in the UK. That tips them over, often through fear,  into ‘fighting back’… and a familiar spiral could take hold.

As John Reid said on Newsnight last night – that’s what the perpetrators want. If anyone is considering ‘revenge’ they should be aware that this fulfils exactly the goals of the attack… it makes those men standing around with bloodied knives into successes.

If you want revenge on those individuals, or if your life is touched by some of the resulting reactions, the best thing you can do to reduce their act to pointlessness is to pause, and then carry on living as though it never happened. There’s another reason not to get drawn into a cycle of retaliation; an entirely selfish one. If you start, or aggravate, a fight in your own house, it is your house that’s going to get damaged, your own roof that will be brought down. History has taught us that the damage wrought by righteous revenge is far greater, and harder to heal, than the original hurt. It’s in your own interests to let the storm dissipate itself.

We look out from the UK at countries which have been torn and stunted by sectarian or tribal conflict for generations. We are saddened and puzzled, but we are also distanced by the thought that this is another kind of place, a ‘less developed’ country waiting for civilisation inevitably to catch up. But in truth maybe we are just fortunate. History has thrown up a culture, a society and many institutions which, whilst there is still plenty of violence, hatred and injustice to deal with, are not shattered daily by bombs, assassinations or murderous riots. This is actually precious, and we would only know how precious  and fragile it was after it had gone.  Ironically some of those people living in the UK  who might be looked upon as ‘outsiders’, are here because they, or their families, sought to escape violence-ridden societies and saw the UK as a refuge from them. [ Next time you see ‘Asylum Seeker’ as a condemnation, ask yourself how different this is from just wanting to be able to live in a place where attacks like yesterday’s were not commonplace, or were not routinely targeted on people of your race, faith, beliefs or even appearance.]

Actually, I realise as I write this, that  I’m wrong. There’s more you can do than just hold back and ‘carry on’ if the waves spreading from the Woolwich attack actually affect you personally. There’s something that the vast majority of us who will hopefully never be directly affected by it [other than feeling horror and sadness at the news] can do. You can turn the shock at this attack into a positive – truly a revenge on those who did it and those who spread the doctrine that motivated them. You can help strengthen our shared decent society just a little bit more, and help it to resist these shocks.

Think of somebody in your immediate neighbourhood who is in some way ‘other’ to you – it might be about how they look, it might be their nationality, race, or their apparent religion or culture, they might be a lot older than you or a lot younger. They are a ‘stranger’, somebody you perhaps wouldn’t get to know, maybe because you assume ‘they keep themselves to themselves’.

Done that?

Go and knock on their door today. Tell them that you have been thinking about what happened in Woolwich, and you think things like that can cause further  trouble because not enough people know each other, or too many just stick to their circle of friends. So you’d just like to say hello, and help tip the balance the other way. Maybe you’ll get a cup of tea  or, as once happened to me in Montenegro when I waved and said hello to a picnicking group of locals, a large tumbler of fiery alcohol!

It actually takes a bit of courage to overcome your shyness and awkwardness about this. I know, I’ve done it a few times already – though that’s another story. But if you are genuinely worried, shocked or angered by what happened yesterday, maybe it’s worth summoning up that courage rather than feel like a helpless bystander. In fact, maybe it’s not such a small thing to do after all.

Can we turn yesterday’s events upside down, come out and make Woolwich into a positive? Capture a bit of last year’s spirit of the Olympics and the Jubilee, and quietly fight for our moderate, tolerant majority. Try it. If you do it – tell me about what happened. Leave me a Comment on this blog, or maybe use and share the twitter hashtag #uwfg [‘use Woolwich for good’]. Maybe you could use your own groups and networks to make this happen. If you do, I’d love to hear about it and collect all the stories in once place.

Because if those killers with the knives recover in hospital, and if they then see the TV and the newspapers, I would love them to see a wave of friendship, understanding and sharing which made them realise that the terrible thing they did, and the throwing away of their own futures, was all for nothing… more than that… that it achieved exactly the opposite of what they and their inspirers intended.

Maybe that would also be some very small recompense, and consolation, for a man’s death.

Knock on a door that you might otherwise never have come to. Explain you are doing it because you want to fight back against the Woolwich killing. Make a new friend. Share the experience with the rest of us.

Or if that’s really too much for today. Just share the idea with a friend who might do it… or might go with you.

[And yes, I have done it myself,  just now]

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