The murder of Bijan Ebrahimi: Demonising child abusers means inevitable violence

Mob justice directed against alleged paedophiles has become a sad fact of life

Share

As yesterday’s report in the Independent indicated, the killing of Bijan Ebrahimi was not just an ordinary homicide. His vigilante neighbours who murdered him had no doubt that it was OK to destroy the life of a paedophile. Beaten up after he took pictures of the youth who vandalised his flowers, Ebrahimi complained to the police last July. When a crowd taunted him with shouts of “paedo, paedo”, he was the one arrested, not those who insulted him. Wrongly detained, he was brutally murdered two days after his release. In an act of quasi-ritual slaughter, this victim of Britain’s fascination with the menace of paedophilia was burnt to death.

Reading between the lines it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that far too many believe that the main problem with this tragic episode was that Ebrahimi was actually “innocent” and had not taken any indecent pictures of anyone. Questions are now asked about who is to blame for the lynching of this man. Some will point the finger at those who were responsible for circulating a “baseless” rumour. Others have condemned the residents of his community for unhesitatingly assuming the worst about their neighbour. The police face serious questions for ignoring Ebrahimi’s plea for help and for arresting him while a crowd was hurling insults and vilifying him as a paedophile.

Those who murdered Ebrahimi, those who stood by and hurled insults in his direction and those officials who ignored his call for help should not bear the entire burden of responsibility for this tragedy. During the past two decades mob justice directed against alleged paedophiles has become a sad fact of life. Such reactions are the outcome of a culture of fear that continually invites the public to perceive paedophilia as a normal fact of life. That is why the News of the World’s “name and shame” campaign in 2000 against paedophilia succeeded in inciting public hysteria. This scaremongering effortlessly provoked anxious parents to form vigilante groups. It succeeded in fuelling a witch-hunt because over previous decades the public had been ceaselessly bombarded with warnings about the perils of “stranger danger” by advocacy groups and media organisations.

In a world where there is little consensus about moral issues touching on what is right and wrong, the paedophile possesses the standalone status of the personification of malevolence. That is why moral and cultural entrepreneurs invest so many resources in crusades against this threat. No one can ignore a claim to act in defence of the child. But their narrative invites us to regard all strangers – particularly men – as potential child molesters. In this way the unthinkable mutates into an omnipresent threat that preys on our imagination.

In effect the principal outcome of the advocacy of stranger danger is the normalisation of paedophilia. Once the stranger becomes a legitimate target of suspicion can the lynch mob be far behind?

Frank Furedi is a sociologist and author of  ‘Moral Crusades in an Age of Mistrust: The Jimmy Savile Scandal’, published by Palgrave Pivot.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before