Woolwich and Double Standards

Last week, a crime rocked Britain. Drummer Lee Rigby, a soldier in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was walking outside the Royal Artillery Barracks (he was off-duty at the time) in Woolwich, London, when two men ran him down in their car. They then proceeded to attack him with knives and a cleaver, screaming all the while, and attempted to behead him. They then hung around, talking to passers-by, until the police arrived, whereupon they charged at them. Both men were shot and wounded.

This, on its own, would have been sufficient to make headlines, but then the always-provocative topics of race and religion entered the fray. Both attackers, Michael Olumide Adebolajo and Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale, were Nigerian-born Britons and Muslims, and declared their attack an act of revenge against the British military’s killing of Muslims in the Afghanistan war. This lead them to, once again, fall under the title of ‘radical Islamists’, and the attack prompted widespread outrage, of all kinds, across Britain. Most people were, naturally, merely shocked that such a horrific attack had taken place, particularly against one of the soldiers of which our country is so proud, and there was a massive outpouring of sympathy for his family. However, others went on the attack, with of cases anti-Muslim attacks including verbal abuse, assault, graffiti and even attempted arson, prompting the police to mobilise as many officers as they could get their hands on. The Queen was even informed, and issued a statement appealing for calm.

There are a couple of things about this frankly horrific incidents that I believe are worth bearing in mind- and, just so nobody accuses me of ripping the following arguments off, I should point out that they were generated from stuff I saw online following the event. The first considers the news we receive; every few months or so, the news will report a case of a black, Islamic or gay person being murdered, assaulted or somesuch in what is dubbed ‘a hate crime’. And this is only the ones that get on the news; around 700 people are murdered every year in the UK (that’s an average of two per day), and I personally find it unlikely that only the two or three of those that get reported are motivated by racial or sexual hatred- the number of more ‘casual’ hate crimes must number well into the thousands. I don’t know, I couldn’t find any numbers.

Anyway, the point is this; these hate crimes generally make it onto the evening news, where they are covered by a serious-looking journalist standing by a police line before everyone moves on. People watching will think ‘oh how terrible’, and then start thinking about what happened in the stock exchange today or who was wearing what dress at some star-spangled event the night before. Point being, people generally don’t make a massive deal out of it; an exception was perhaps the awful murder of Indian student Anuj Bidve last year, but his killer (Kiaran Stapleton) claimed it wasn’t a hate crime so much as Bidve being the closest available person to shoot. However, even then, the case didn’t garner anywhere near the coverage the Woolwich incident has done; multiple protests from all political angles have been organised, every major political or religious figure has made some statement or other, and the whole country has been gripped by the shock. Not only that, but this attack has, rather than a ‘hate crime’ been labelled in some quarters as terrorism.

Now, never let it be said that I think the outpouring of grief and emotion over this case is in any way wrong; a seemingly random victim, innocent of any crime against his attackers, has been viciously murdered in cold blood in a public, supposedly safe, place, and I cannot imagine what his family must be going through. I feel I should also say explicitly that nothing I say from hereon in is intended to insult the memory of Lee Rigby: may he rest in peace. However, I do think that the public outcry to the event has revealed something of a double standard in the public eye; when a Muslim is murdered by some white extremist nutter, then it’s a hate crime that we all consider gravely, but when a white guy gets murdered by a pair of Muslim nutters, then the entire country is wrapped up in a frenzy. I understand that it would be impractical (not to mention depressing) for us to get this wrapped up every time somebody is murdered, but treating each case differently based upon who kills who is simply not fair, at least on the families of the half-forgotten hate crime victims.

And then there are the accusations of terrorism. Now, I will be the first to admit that the line between terrorism and hate crime is, particularly in the modern age, a narrow one; both involve the killing of innocent people based, usually, on the fact that they violently disagree with a practice or philosophy ostensibly held by the victim. The difference is, ostensibly, that terrorism is a typically organised campaign that intends to strike terror into the hearts of the group or nation being targeted, in order to make them give in to their demands (which, historically, never works), whilst a hate crime is simply done out of anger or, in this case vengeance. Because the Woolwich Incident was a hate crime, nothing more or less, and was horrible for precisely that reason.

My point is that there is, frankly, only one reason that some quarters have dubbed this attack terrorism; because the perpetrators were two Muslims. Again, we find ourselves facing a double standard, the kind of discrimination that does not consciously register to the discriminators and is all the more harmful because of it. One of the biggest examples of this occurred as the story of the Anders Breivik incident broke; whilst news agencies were still unsure as to who the perpetrator was, one story went around that the attacker was a Muslim extremist. Immediately, several news organisations began reporting the incident as a terrorist attack, but as soon as it became widely known that the attacker was a white guy, the whole thing went back to being a ‘lone gunman’ story, one madman, a twisted political philosophy and a gun coming together in the most tragic of ways, as the case actually was. Again, we see evidence of this double standard, and this unintentional institutionalised racism.

A post like this doesn’t really have a natural ending beyond the idea that such a double standard is simply wrong; our society (well, most of it) prides itself on being accepting of all different cultures, and such attitudes run directly contrary to this. So, just to bring it all full circle, I shall end with this; rest in peace, Lee Rigby. May your soul find peace.

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