London Attack: It's time to stop sexing up terror
People immediately assumed that the attacker was Muslim (turns out that he was); that he was linked to the misnamed Islamic State (IS); and that he had somehow been radicalised because of his religious affiliations which led him down a dark and violent path.
As a result of this speculation, the terrorist got what he probably always wanted – attention.
Violently radical or just violent?
The attacker, who has now been identified as 52-year-old Khalid Masood, already had quite a history of violence under his belt.
Rather than talking about how he was radicalised, as if it happened overnight, people should instead make attempts to understand the person who committed a monstrous and criminal act right in the heart of London. Only then will they know where to target their justified outrage and anger (hint; not at Islam or Muslims).
Khalid Masood was actually born on a very British holiday – Christmas Day, 1964 – and with the very British name Adrian Russell Elms. Though his surname later changed due to his mother’s marriage to a man bearing the name “Ajao”, there was nothing remotely “Islamic” about him, never mind “Islamist”.
Indeed, he appeared to have come to Islam pretty late in life. Throughout his youth, he was involved in violent crime, ranging from grievous bodily harm to possession of a deadly weapon. While approaching his middle aged years, and still going by his Christian name, Masood was jailed for two years in 2000 after being convicted of slashing a man’s face open with a knife. This occurred after a row in a pub – hardly a mosque.
According to reports now circulating the media, Masood’s last conviction for possession of a knife was in 2003 at around the age of 39-years-old. It is still unclear when he converted to Islam, but the BBC said that circumstantial evidence suggests that it could well have been after his last conviction as he did not use his “Muslim name” at trial.
Either way, it is clear that Masood was violent long before he became a Muslim, and long after he passed the age at which he could have been considered a boisterous youth who was easily radicalised. By all accounts, he displayed no signs of any religious “radicalisation” whatsoever, apart from being investigated “some years ago” by MI5, as Prime Minister Theresa May put it rather vaguely.
|It is clear that Masood was violent long before he became a Muslim, and long after he passed the age at which he could have been considered a boisterous youth who was easily radicalised|
Although the frenzy over his being a Muslim is ridiculous, it has reached worse levels now that IS have claimed the attack. Although the intelligence and security services appear to be unconvinced that he had direct links to IS, they suggest that he may have been inspired to carry out an attack by their propaganda. However, and as of yet, all of that is speculation.
The main problem, however, is that the media is actively disseminating much of this speculation to an audience ready to lap it up. The only thing that is clear is that Masood was a violent man who eventually came to Islam, but to conflate the two or to make the latter a causal link to the former is dangerous and irresponsible. There is absolutely no indication that his conversion to Islam put him in touch with people who encouraged this type of attack.
|The only thing that is clear is that Masood was a violent man who eventually came to Islam, but to conflate the two or to make the latter a causal link to the former is dangerous and irresponsible|
The media is guilty of having stirred up Islamophobia to unbearable levels, to the point where there is genuine concern that today’s Muslims have become the Jews of the 1930s, as fascism feeds off of a cycle of media misinformation, demonisation and vilification. Some media professionals irresponsibly and casually throw accusations at Islam and Muslims – directly or indirectly – leading to an increase of violence and abuse against Muslims.
This, of course, despite the fact that many of the most notorious terrorist attacks committed by so-called radical Muslims were perpetrated by those who were most assuredly terrible Muslims, their murderous violence aside. The 9/11 plane hijackers were known to have visited strip clubs and bars, partaking in some very carnal and sinful pleasures before committing the greater sin of killing thousands of people.
Similarly, the so-called “Islamist terrorist mastermind” behind the 2015 Bataclan Theatre attacks in Paris, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was seen drinking whiskey and smoking cannabis not long after the attack. He was not in a mosque, praying, remembering Allah and creation, and donating to the poor, but he was having a drink and smoking weed – both forbidden by any normal, mainstream interpretation of Islam – as if he was winding down from a day at work.
|The so-called 'Islamist terrorist mastermind' behind the 2015 Bataclan Theatre attacks in Paris, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was seen drinking whiskey and smoking cannabis not long after the attack. He was not in a mosque, praying, remembering Allah but he was having a drink and smoking weed – both forbidden by any normal, mainstream interpretation of Islam|
While these stories do get mentioned in the media, they are largely wiped out by the infinitely more prevalent stories about how a Muslim was somehow radicalised by his beliefs, and who is accused of suddenly started praying or growing a beard before turning violent.
The British government’s controversial Prevent programme even thinks that a sign of extremism or radicalisation is someone growing facial hair, and the media’s irresponsibility supports that kind of profiling.
Let this be clear – the events of World War II, and even the meltdown of the international political system before World War I, were not “one off” events. The generation that lived through those ghastly wars are either extremely aged or have passed on, leaving this generation to suffer from a lack of historical understanding.
They think that such conflagrations will never occur again, that something similar to the treatment of the Jews in Europe will never happen again, and that their generation is somehow much more intelligent and able to avoid such tragedies.
While technology and attitudes change, human nature is largely the same. Keep telling people that someone is their enemy long enough and authoritatively enough, and they will start to believe it and they will start to act on it. From there, it is a slippery slope to the kind of genocidal madness of the 1940s – after all, Hitler did not start the Holocaust immediately, did he?
Tallha Abdulrazaq is a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute and winner of the 2015 Al Jazeera Young Researcher Award. His research focuses on Middle Eastern security and counter-terrorism issues.
Follow him on Twitter: @thewarjournal
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.