The Woolwich terror attack on Wednesday has been a truly awful and disturbing episode- a man being hacked to death in broad daylight on a London street is surely the very definition of terror. The news media and of course the social networks have been dominated with this story of two Muslim men killing a British soldier.
What’s become apparent from listening to the talk surrounding this event is that everyone is picking sides. It seems to me that the Woolwich terror attack has caused us Brits to actually become quite tribal.
On my Facebook newsfeed on the day of the attack, a black friend of mine was posting statuses about racist comments towards the black community that he was seeing. On Twitter, Muslims were defending themselves and their community while some really awful anti-Muslim phrases were trending.
In the meantime, the English Defense League (EDL) were stirring up equally ugly and disturbing pro-nation sentiment, causing some- but certainly not all, English and white people to draw lines of allegiance against Muslims specifically and ethnic minorities in general. The debate around immigration and immigrants in this country suddenly seemed to have a justifiable basis (“immigrants have ruined our beautiful country”, that kind of thing). I also heard of a Sikh man that had been the target of racist abuse simply because he wears a turban (sheer ignorance on the part of perpetrator). He was vehemently denying being a Muslim or having anything to do with the Muslim community.
And then there was the rest of us: looking on at the whole thing and thinking hard about which group we belong to and where we stand. This tragic and shocking incident has got us all to look in the mirror. Who you see looking back is all about your identity politics.
How you define yourself in this debate is as much about who you don’t identify with. And that’s how lines have been drawn. White nationalists are closing ranks in defiance against Muslims, immigrants and ethnic minorities. Muslims drawing together in pride, quick to disown the killers, angry at the Government and the media for the furore that’s being whipped up. Other ethnic communities- whether along religious or colour lines are coming together to say they are not Muslim and therefore have nothing to do with this attack, but perhaps standing in unity with the rest of British society in the face of this atrocity.
It saddens me that we are defining ourselves based on such negative sentiments: anti West, anti Islam, get rid of the immigrants and so on. I have labelled myself as “British Asian Mum” as a celebration of what I am, not what I am not or what I am against- and to me that’s what identity should be about. Let’s hope that we abandon this tribal mentality that we have seemed to have adopt and at some point stand in unity over the fact that a man tragically lost his life, and that a family has lost their husband and father.