But when I think about a young man being hacked to death in the street by two other young men I just have a sense of horror and futility. It can be reassuring to try and find moments of 'bravery' and 'heroism' amidst the carnage, to offer some meaning or redemption. We've seen plenty of that this week, and of course it was remarkable that people comforted a dying man while his killers stood nearby. But the fact is that the victim had no opportunity to display any 'bravery' or 'heroism' as he was cut down in the street, and those who stood to talk to the killers did not alter the course of events in any way: the assailants seemed glad of an audience by which to relay their self-mythologising accounts to the world.
Another reassuring narrative is to put the events in a wider context, to see the killing as a moment in an international story of imperialist warfare and its impact, or of 'global terrorism'. And sure what happened in Woolwich plainly has a connection to the fact of British forces waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq for more than a decade, and to the violent fringe of the wider Islamist movement.
But I think Lee Jasper is right to pose the real question as 'how can a seemingly ordinary couple of black British guys from South East London end up committing such an act?' The issue might be less Al-Qaeda and more home grown issues of alienated, marginalised young men growing up amidst desensitising experiences of violence. The same culture that leads to (mainly) black young men killing each other year in year out on the streets of London. As Jasper notes, 'Horrific, and symbolic as the killing of this young soldier was, there were similarities in its barbarity of the recent murder of Daniel Graham [in East Dulwich], who was chased by a gang and stabbed multiple times on a London bus or that of Andrew Jaipual of Islington stabbed between 20-40 times. Both in broad daylight'.
Still making such comparisons shouldn't be used to detract from the specific horror of Woolwich. F*cked up blokes killing another bloke might not be so unusual, but standing around explaining it to passers-by, getting photographed and waiting for the police to turn up, perhaps in hope of some 'martyrdom' terminal exit - that is hardly typical. It felt like the assailants had written themselves a dramatic script with themselves as the key actors, and didn't know quite what to do when the other actors didn't turn up on time. So it seems naive to complain that the media have treated it as such a big story - it was a media event par excellence.
EDL and BNP
The racist clowns of the English Defence League were out on the streets of Woolwich on Wednesday night, gathering outside The Queen’s Arms pub on Burrage Grove and attempting to get to the Greenwich Islamic Centre. There have been attacks on Mosques and Muslims, and the British National Party are mobilising for a protest in Woolwich next Saturday (their fast fading leader Nick Griffin was in the area yesterday).
|EDL 'Bexley Division' in Woolwich on Wednesday - laughing and clearly enjoying themselves.|
- I'm sure Lee Rigby's family weren't laughing that night
|Small march by Nigerians in Woolwich today (photo by Helen Donohue via twitter)|