The Woolwich media coverage reinforces the myth that brown people are somehow 'not British'

Turning murdered soldier Lee Rigby into a symbol and pitting 'blackness' against 'Britishness' won't help tackle extremism. It will only guarantee a climate of division

Share
Related Topics

While a family grieves, the victim of Wednesday’s crime has, through media narratives, transformed into something symbolic of a nation. Early reports of the attack in Woolwich focused acutely on the fact that the victim was wearing Help for Heroes T shirt. Police officials and politicians indicated that the attack was one of a terrorist nature. Home Secretary Theresa May crudely called Lee Rigby’s murder ‘an attack on everyone in the United Kingdom’- as though, somehow, we are all him, and he, us. But despite graphic pictures in the press, his body does not belong to the public, and despite the EDL’s arguments, war is not the backbone of Britishness. However, the ensuing media narrative surrounding the incident gives us food for thought regarding our own unanswered questions on British identity. 

Before any images of the suspected murderers were released, the BBC’s Nick Robinson was already reporting that they were ‘of Muslim appearance’. Islam is a religion of which anyone of any race can subscribe to. But we know that Robinson was referring to a stereotypical construction of what the decade since 9/11 has constructed in our collective mind’s eye. An Asian man with a backpack and a beard, or perhaps a woman wearing a hijab.

So, when video footage of an Afro-Caribbean man in a beanie hat and a hooded jacket was released, Robinson's claim was swiftly debunked. He apologised when challenged by many who were keen to know what exactly what comprises "Muslim appearance". It appears this phrase, with its Islamophobic connotations, had been used an umbrella term for a person whose skin was darker than white.

Predictably, there have been scrambles to distance suspect Michael Adebolajo from Britishness. He was born in the London Borough of Lambeth. This is where the goalposts of Britishness really begin - being black, being Muslim and being British are each considered contradictory. Worse still, this happens when the English Defence League’s race hate is wrapped up in a Union Jack.

Nick Robinson’ comment sowed the first seeds of a media narrative that reinforced the long standing myth of black and brown people’s mounting threat to British peace and order. This is a strained patriotism, a myth with enough power to prompt the Muslim Council of Britain to release a statement dissociating Muslims from the ideology on show at the attacks. You could call it pre-emptive - it’s not difficult to predict narratives at a time like this. Other commentators have explored the very pertinent issue of the roots of extremism not just springing from thin air, most notably Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian, who puts it plainly:

“The US, the UK and its allies have repeatedly killed Muslim civilians over the past decade (and before that), but defenders of those governments insist that this cannot be "terrorism" because it is combatants, not civilians, who are the targets. Can it really be the case that when western nations continuously kill Muslim civilians, that's not "terrorism", but when Muslims kill western soldiers, that is terrorism?”

The gruesome violence of two men does not an ideology make. Thankfully this argument has been made repeatedly since Wednesday’s murder. On top of this, it would also be clumsy to dismiss Drummer Rigby’s killers as simply insane. International studies suggest that when it comes to violence and mental illness, the opposite is actually the case, with mentally ill people being four times more likely to be a victim of violence rather than a perpetrator. What can be commented on is the deft construction of the boundaries of Britishness. What is the possibility of the perpetrators of this crime being home grown?

Lee Rigby elevated to symbol status paired with a narrative that pits blackness against Britishness will guarantee a climate of fear, hatred and division. Race relations have already taken a turn for the worse. Accounts of the English Defence League rampaging through the streets of Woolwich on Wednesday night hark back to race riots of the 1980s. Their retaliation creates a dangerous and unstable atmosphere that forces people who don't have white skin to cower in the safety of their own homes. It's the kind of raw anger that saw two mosques attacked and EDL leader Tommy Robinson warning of reprisals that will implicate the entire Muslim community. When David Cameron says ‘this was not just an attack on Britain, but a betrayal of Islam’, he implies that the two are mutually exclusive.

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Isis in Iraq: Even if Iraqi troops take back Saddam’s city of Tikrit they will face bombs and booby traps

Patrick Cockburn
The Royal Mint Engraver Jody Clark with his new coinage portrait, alongside the four previous incarnations  

Queen's new coin portrait: Second-rate sculpture makes her look characterless

Michael Glover
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003