Terrorism in Woolwich

The media seemed to conclude that the murder in Woolwich was an act of terrorism very quickly. It makes you wonder how they knew. Maybe because the security forces knew the suspects. Who knows? The media also very quickly established the framework and context under which any public discourse on the matter could happen: radicalisation and Islam. I watched the last episode of Question Time in which the panel discussed the event. It was interesting to see the panel reinforcing these constraints in thinking. One of the politicians gave a very moving speech about justice and the rule of law and morality of hacking some-ones head off. This was firstly incredibly condescending. I kept thinking that someone should remind him that he works for us, and we don’t need him to explain to us which moral conclusions we should be coming to. We all understand that killing someone is illegal. It was illegal last week and will be illegal next week too. More significantly he was focusing on the wrong thing.

If we are to solve any problem we have to recognise the cause, and to do that we have to separate cause from effect. A member of the audience introduced the idea that the UK’s foreign policy might be pissing people off, and in some cases enough to drive people to apparently crazy acts. One of the politicians, in being asked if she thought our foreign policy was in any way at fault, said that she is ‘optimistic’ and that she saw literally nothing wrong with any of our foreign policy. To me, this is either a psychopathic level of empathic detachment or a display of breathtaking ignorance given that her career is supposed to be concerned with our governmental policies and tied to reality. Even the word, ‘optimism’ implies some kind of selective ignorance. I mean, if our foreign policies were really OK why would she need optimism? The first politician seemed to become angered by one of his clients, a member of the public, having the nerve to pose a question and jumped at the chance to re-write the audience members question in terms that he could score more emotive points off. He partially re-iterated his previous diatribe by responding to the audience as if they had said “this murder was OK because of our foreign policy”, which was obviously not the point being made.

As I said, if we are to fix any problem we have to separate out the cause. Obsessing about the craziness or awfulness of the killing in Woolwich is just like obsessing about how awful headaches are: it get’s you no closer to curing the flu. But, the cause is not part of the framework. The framework is this: the people that did it were ‘radicalised’, which is a superficially technical term for ‘crazy’. It’s also just as useful. Saying someone did something because they were crazy is the same as saying you have no idea why they did it, or they did it for no reason that needs to be talked about. For the framework to be enforced requires that certain topics be re-directed. It’s almost as if our group psyche has been re-wired. When someone says “we are doing something wrong” we hear “murder is justified”, when someone says “our military is doing something wrong” we hear “our soldiers are evil.” The reaction is quick silencing of disruptive lines of discussion. The permissible constant is radicalisation. The permissible variables are the extent to which Islam is responsible for radicalisation and whether our security system broke down.

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