[ by Charles Cameron — update to follow ]
I’m sorry to have to inflict this on you, but I have yet to see an accurate transcript of the Woolwich attacker’s televised explanation published.
So far, we have two transcripts, both found in a piece by Max Fisher in the Washington Post. The first goes like this:
We swear by Almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reasons we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye a tooth for tooth. We apologise that women had to see this today but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don’t care about you.
Then there’s an update to Fisher’s piece, which say the WP’s Anthony Faiola “listened to the ITV video very carefully and came away with a different quote than the one circulating in British media … Here’s the quote as heard by Faiola”:
There are many, many ayah throughout the Koran [referring to religious verses] that says we must fight them as they fight us, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I apologize that women had to witness this today but in our land women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don’t care about you.
That’s definitely an improvement, and yet…
I must apologize for the fact that I cannot read or write Arabic, and therefore no doubt mix up different transliteration schemes at times like this — but I think this is one off those cases where a little religious knowledge helps ones ability to make out what’s being said by someone offering religious justification for their acts. The clip begins in mid-sentence with a clear reference to a Sura from the Quran — Sura 9, at-Taubah, The Repentance — and then continues with a reference to ayat , the plural of ayah, the term for a Qur’anic verse.
Here’s what I hear:
… Sura at-Taubah — many, many ayat throughout the Koran that, we must fight them as they fight us, an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth. We, I apologize that women had to witness this today, but in our lands, our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don’t care about you.
The other notable divergence between my text and Faiola’s is that I hear “our lands” where he hears “our land”. But listen to the video — without the ITV reporter’s voice over obscuring part of the text — on this Guardian page.
It is worth noting that Sura 9 is the only sura in the Quran which does not begin with the Bismillah, “In the Name of God”.
One commentator, referencing Ali ibn Abi Talib, notes:
It should also be mentioned that this surah does not start with ‘Bismillah’ as do all other surahs in the Qur’an, because ‘Bismillah’ is an assurance of protection and mercy and as per report of Ali (RAA) this surah was revealed with a sword in its hand, and thus could not have the assurance of peace and mercy for the disbelievers.
This presumably ties in with the fact that this is the sura which contains the “verse of the sword” — Sura 9.5, given here in the Arberry version:
Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way; God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.
I do not believe it serves justice, let alone mercy, for us to leap to the conclusion — rush to the judgment — that “Islam” is a monolithic entity, all of whose members are by definition disposed to violence.
I do think it is important, once again, for us to understand that the speech here is religious speech.
Putting it very mildly, and with deep sadness in my heart, today’s event in Woolwich was barbaric.