Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The White Man's Burden: Minority Report

Conor Friedersdorf has a piece over at The Atlantic about media coverage of white terrorists versus their dark-skinned counterparts:
It ought to be self-evident that non-Muslims perpetrate terrorist attacks, and that a vanishingly small percentage of Muslims are terrorists, but those two truths aren't widely appreciated in America. That doesn't mean they won't reassert themselves, for terrorist attacks have always been with us; the tactic has never been exclusive to a single ideology for very long; and the power the state marshals against one sort of terrorist is sure to be first to hand when another sort strikes. 
Mmhm. And it's not like the UK is immune from this sort of over-extrapolation. A relatively recent ESRC-funded report conflates the coverage of Irish terrorism during The Troubles with coverage of Islamic extremism in the War on Terror:

Irish and Muslim communities are simultaneously and ambiguously depicted in public discourse as victims, allies and suspects, and the boundaries between the three are seen as shifting and permeable. This permeability and ambiguity has arguably contributed to fostering a social and political climate that has permitted, and seemingly continues to permit, grave violations of civil liberties and human rights with tragic consequences to take place, such as those we have witnessed in the Irish context in the past and continue to witness in the Muslim context in the current period.
What was that about those who aren't taught history being bound to something-something? It's easy, lazy and dangerous journalism to view acts of violence committed by people wearing different clothes as being endemic or representative of a cultural problem, yet those committed by ordinary, decent white folks as being the acts of lone madmen. Don't you think it's interesting to see which types of political violence warrant a change in the law? Now, look at the Government's description of its own Prevent Strategy of tackling terrorism before it happens:
Prevent will tackle non-violent extremism where it creates an environment conducive to terrorism and popularises ideas that are espoused by terrorist groups
How is 'non-violent extremism' (whatever that means) such an issue that it requires incorporation into a counter-terrorism strategy? Isn't the whole point of counter-terrorism to counter violence, rather than non-violence? What about the marketplace of ideas, freedom of speech? This is worryingly Orwellian sort of language, implying that there are individuals or groups who need to be brought 'back into the fray' because of the danger they post to the ideological purity of a certain community or sub-community. It's very telling that even within the framework of multiculturalism, there's still room for the conception of subversive individuals who need government intervention to be dragged away from incorrect thoughts. Ironically it's exactly this sort of condescension and heavy-handedness that's more likely to alienate individuals and drag them towards extremist ideology than it is to make them enthusiastic about British culture. Don't just take my word for it. How would any of us feel if our Christianity, atheism, agnosticism or whatever was viewed as a potentially impure strain, warranting bone-headed Government programs to put us on the correct path? Reflect on that for a second, and you'll get some idea of the danger of conflating entire communities with extremism.

(Image: Ted Kaczynski, also known as the 'Unabomber', former Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of California, Berkley. Responsible for a bombing campaign which lasted for two decades, killing three and injuring 23 others.)

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