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

Senior Data Warehouse Developer - (Oracle, PL/SQL, ETL, OLAP, B

£65000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: One of the global leaders in fina...

Deputy Education Manager

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Deputy Education Manager (permanent ...

Science Teacher Urgently required for October start

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

ICT Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

We should applaud Mary Berry for her bold views on assisted dying

Chloe Hamilton
Lightning over central London as major storms kept the city awake overnight  

The less we hear about a project to predict the unexpected, the better

Oliver Wright
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering