In defence of freedom of speech »« Intersectionality? It’s been a privilege

Terror and the Unknown Soldier

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. ”
– Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

In the afternoon light of a busy London street, two young men smash their car directly into the fragile flesh of a third; jump out, and hack his broken body into pieces.  Hands red with blood and heavy with weapons, they linger over their victim, awaiting reaction.

Women of unimaginable courage impose themselves between killers and killed, preventing further desecration of a lifeless corpse, which lies in a T-shirt proclaiming “Help For Heroes.”

All around camera phones are held in shaking hands, freezing the scene as jpeg, liquidising it as mpeg. Exclusive interviews granted to random lenses, a garbled manifesto of anger, hate, despair and confusion.

A cub-scout leader engages the assassins with Akela’s calm authority, trying to persuade them to lay down the blades and the gun, avert further violence. “My mum is a mutherfuckin badass.”

Sirens, helicopter, state-sanctioned bullets, more blood.

“Mate ive seen alot of shit im my time but that has to rank sumwhere in the top 3. I couldnt believe my eyes. That was some movie shit”  

A million tweets and updates hail down with ostentatious bravado.

Around 6pm a source close to government issues the official kite-mark of a capital T. This was not an act of criminality and hate, not a moment of horror but an act of Terror. Gloves off.

Fascists gather to gleefully parade their anger and display their drunken might. Black and brown neighbours shelter at home, fearful of violent reprisals from those who declare their opposition to Terror with a strictly capital T. Brave defenders of decent Christian values mask themselves behind matching EDL-branded balaclavas and hurl bricks at the police.

Hot from the presses, the papers prepare to grace the breakfast tables of the nation. From the front page of the world’s leading liberal voice stares the eyes of a killer, black-clad, black-skinned, red-handed, his words afforded banner status: “You people will never be safe.” An act of terror with a strictly lower-case t.

Meanwhile a young man about whom we know nearly nothing lies dead, unseen, unnamed, all but forgotten; no different to the countless bodies from either side littering the landscapes of Afghanistan and Iraq. But unlike them, he is a casualty not of war, not of hate, not of anger, not of madness, not of religion, not of politics. He is a casualty of spectacle.

 

UPDATE

About 12 hours after I posted this blog, the victim of the Woolwich attack was named as Drummer Lee Rigby, from Crumpsall, Manchester, aged 25, and father to a two year old son named Jack.

RIP.

 

Comments

  1. Arkwright says

    Well the ‘two young men’ got what they wanted sadly (I’d of used a much harsher description of them than that though).
    But two thoughts have come to mind. Firstly it’s disappointing that in some quarters, the reaction is gaining more attention than the victim himself, only one person has died because of this (and horribly so), surely he (and his family) should be in out thoughts first and foremost? It’s depressing to see a human life being used in a idealogical tug of war, people should of stepped back.
    My second is that women who talked to the murderers showed a calmness and bravery which was inspiring.

  2. jemima101 says

    A beautiful post, it does seem that the fact a young innocent man has been brutally slaughtered has been lost as people leap to use this tragedy to bang a drum for whatever cause they espouse.

  3. thetalkingstove says

    Very nice piece, Ally.

    The style eeminded me a bit of Don DeLillo, a little of that evocative plain-ness, if that’s not too nonsensical.

  4. Pen says

    I’m sad for Woolwich today. It’s a nice little place. Now not only did they have a horrific murder on their high street, but they have the Eedjits Defence League out in force and the media as well if they can only get in.
    I’m sad for the family of the murdered soldier though not too surprised he hasn’t been named yet. I’m sure it’s out of respect for their need of a bit of processing time.
    Heck, I even feel sad for the nutters who were dumb enough to think this is an effective demonstration of anything. No, Arkwright #1, I don’t think they will be getting what they want in any way whatsoever. Just doing plenty of collateral unrelated damage and otherwise being counterproductive.

    It’s worth stepping back and remembering that we’ve had other murders on the streets of London, in broad daylight, for apparently less newsworthy reasons.

  5. Ginkgo says

    My heart goes out to British Muslims. Everyone in Britain has suffered not only a terrible injury but a hideous insult, but British Muslims have been insulted by these two murderers twice. These two slandered and insulted something very precious to Muslims after all and they are dealing with both pieces of that now.

    My condolences to all of you. I don’t have to be in Britain or be British to feel how shaken you must be. This is an especially personal and horrible form of terrorism.

  6. splendi says

    It’s well written, in the sense that it’s almost poetic toward the end and seems to point to some great truth. What that great truth is though… I think you might have to dumb that one down for me.

    I’d always prefer, (as i’m sure you would) that the victims family be officially informed by the police before the name goes out to the national media. Because he was un-named for the majority of last night and today seems like a poor rationale for calling him “all but forgotten”.

    But unlike them, he is a casualty not of war, not of hate, not of anger, not of madness, not of religion, not of politics. He is a casualty of spectacle.

    At the moment, if you’re following the same news that I am, we’re actually unsure of what he was a casualty of. It seems on the face of it to be political/religious extremism, hate, anger, madness. If he’s a casualty of spectacle then it must surely be on top of that.

  7. VeganAtheistWeirdo says

    It seems on the face of it to be political/religious extremism, hate, anger, madness. If he’s a casualty of spectacle then it must surely be on top of that.

    The point is that Lee Rigby was murdered more because these deranged men wanted everyone’s attention than for anything he was or had done. Surely that’s dumbed down enough?

  8. splendi says

    The point is that Lee Rigby was murdered more because these deranged men wanted everyone’s attention than for anything he was or had done. Surely that’s dumbed down enough?

    My point is that (at the moment it seems) that they didn’t want attention just for the sake of attention. There was another reason or cause motivating them to do what they did.

  9. Sellsword says

    I can’t let this pass without protest.

    I acknowledge that within the current FtB climate a comment like this is likely to lead to an out of hand ban, but I could not feel honest within myself without taking very serious issue with this post and at least one of the previous comments made in response to it. For that reason I’m going to respond as I feel bound to and leave the rest up to a moderator’s conscience.

    “…a young man about whom we know nearly nothing lies dead, unseen, unnamed, all but forgotten; no different to the countless bodies from either side littering the landscapes of Afghanistan and Iraq. But unlike them, he is a casualty not of war, not of hate, not of anger, not of madness, not of religion, not of politics. He is a casualty of spectacle.”

    How was this supposedly anonymous man (his name was Lee Rigby) NOT a casualty of hate exactly? Not a casualty of anger and madness, religion and politics? I guess you could make a legalistic argument that since Lee Rigby was a British citizen and his killers seem also to have been British citizens, and that no new British Civil War has been declared, he was not a casualty of war. If somebody wants to make that argument and take pride in it, then my only response is going to be a slow hand clap. Either way, the rest of us know damn well that hate and anger and madness and religion and politics were exactly the kinds of factors that led Lee Rigby (he had a name) to be cut down with big blades on a public street.

    Well will at least sympathy be allowed to flow in its proper direction, towards those who knew this butchered young man and are left bereft by his absence? Not for a moment.
    Poster 7 “Gingko” writes:

    “My heart goes out to British Muslims. Everyone in Britain has suffered not only a terrible injury but a hideous insult, but British Muslims have been insulted by these two murderers twice. These two slandered and insulted something very precious to Muslims after all and they are dealing with both pieces of that now.
    My condolences to all of you. I don’t have to be in Britain or be British to feel how shaken you must be. This is an especially personal and horrible form of terrorism.”

    So “everyone in Britain has suffered not only a terrible injury, but a hideous insult”, and one might reasonably think that that was the very least that could be said about Lee Rigby’s family, but this poster’s “heart goes out to British Muslims”, because instead of merely recieving “a hideous insult” like said bereaved family, they “have been insulted by these two murderers twice”!

    For those of you reading this who espouse that same point of view, let me bring a little information your way; other people’s distaste for you is not founded upon fear of your supposed righteousness, it is founded upon the acknowledgement that something is deeply wrong with your brain. If you can learn of a man being butchered in the streets and your first thought is not “My heart goes out to parents” or “My heart goes out to children” (Lee Rigby was a father), but “My heart goes out to British Muslims” then you are a grotesquely disfunctional individual and I’d hope British Muslims throughout the country would tell you so. The ones I know certainly would.

    The atheist community (I mean the stuffy old rationalist/empirical one, not the new politically trendy one) used to know what to make of slaughter and murder, carried out in public streets and done explicitly in the name of religious fundamentalism. Now I feel like a young relic of an old movement, surrounded by other people’s moral compasses, smashed all to bits upon the ground. You ought to feel shame but you never do.

  10. M, Supreme Anarch of the Queer Illuminati says

    “Mate ive seen alot of shit im my time but that has to rank sumwhere in the top 3. I couldnt believe my eyes. That was some movie shit”

    You mentioned Debord — this brings in Eco and Baudrillard. Because that’s where it leads; the ultimate in making terror real for its targets is to make it hyperreal — to make it “some movie shit.”

  11. Adiabat says

    Sellsword: I agree. My first reaction when I read this post yesterday was disgust. It’s nothing but damage control for the “social justice” worldview. It’s an insult to all those who are capable of having a genuine emotional reaction to this horrendous crime.

  12. Ariel says

    Sellsword:

    If you can learn of a man being butchered in the streets and your first thought is not “My heart goes out to parents” or “My heart goes out to children” (Lee Rigby was a father), but “My heart goes out to British Muslims” then you are a grotesquely disfunctional individual and I’d hope British Muslims throughout the country would tell you so.

    You nailed it.

    within the current FtB climate… etc. … You ought to feel shame but you never do.

    You were reacting to a concrete comment by a concrete commenter. My guess (for whatever it’s worth) is that many FtB commenters would agree with you here, or at least they would understand your reaction. I can see no reason to assume the worst and generalize it the way you did it.

  13. Adiabat says

    “”If you can learn of a man being butchered in the streets and your first thought is not “My heart goes out to parents” or “My heart goes out to children” (Lee Rigby was a father), but “My heart goes out to British Muslims” then you are a grotesquely disfunctional individual and I’d hope British Muslims throughout the country would tell you so.”

    You nailed it.”

    I think that’s going too far myself. Why is there this constant need to pathologise what’s likely to be a simple misjudged post? I’ve been reading Ginkgo for a while and I don’t believe for a second that he didn’t think of the victims’ family first. It was most likely a booboo, a lack of thought into how his post, which is responding to Ally’s OP, would be perceived.

    For the record I think that Ally probably isn’t as heartless as his OP makes him appear to be, despite my previous post. Though I’m still concerned that he would make this post so soon after the incident.

  14. VeganAtheistWeirdo says

    Ariel, yes, at least one other commenter (mostly) understands that reaction. The reason I did not feel a need to counter these thoughts is simply that we are here, in a blog on a blog network with a specific target audience that discusses such motives and social issues. I don’t think Ally or Gingko would go to a tribute blog or even a mainstream news blog and tell everyone there that no, they are upset for the wrong reasons, it’s not about Lee Rigby being murdered, it’s about social terrorism.

    I doubt either one of them dismisses the horror of Rigby’s murder, to his family, to his friends, to the community. Their comments were made here, to an audience that (presumably) understands there may be additional, even more serious (in scope, both geographic and time) implications to this murder which don’t immediately concern those who quite rightly are more upset about the violent loss of their husband/father/son/uncle/brother/friend/etc.

  15. John Morales says

    Sellsword:

    I can’t let this pass without protest.

    Nor without declaiming it to be so, obviously.

    I acknowledge that within the current FtB climate a comment like this is likely to lead to an out of hand ban, but I could not feel honest within myself without taking very serious issue with this post and at least one of the previous comments made in response to it. For that reason I’m going to respond as I feel bound to and leave the rest up to a moderator’s conscience.

    Your grandstanding is noted no less than your conceit that FTB is a monolithic culture rather than a collection of bloggers.

    How was this supposedly anonymous man (his name was Lee Rigby) NOT a casualty of hate exactly? Not a casualty of anger and madness, religion and politics?

    First, it is you who introduced the claim that he is supposedly anonymous; second, it’s not dichotomous: it’s all of that and more.

    [meta]

    If you [Ginkgo] can learn of a man being butchered in the streets and your first thought is not “My heart goes out to parents” or “My heart goes out to children” (Lee Rigby was a father), but “My heart goes out to British Muslims” then you are a grotesquely disfunctional individual and I’d hope British Muslims throughout the country would tell you so. The ones I know certainly would.

    Perhaps Ginkgo (not Gingko) also considers it needless to say, but unlike you doesn’t say it; perhaps many things.

    (Perhaps your malevolence is borne out of motivated but specious reasoning)

    Now I feel like a young relic of an old movement, surrounded by other people’s moral compasses, smashed all to bits upon the ground. You ought to feel shame but you never do.

    Well, at least your ego hasn’t withered away, O hoary one.

  16. John Morales says

    Adiabat @11.1:

    My first reaction when I read this post yesterday was disgust. It’s nothing but damage control for the “social justice” worldview. It’s an insult to all those who are capable of having a genuine emotional reaction to this horrendous crime.

    Rarely have I seen such a glaring example of the fundamental attribution error.

    (You’re an exemplar!)

  17. Terrene says

    I very much enjoyed this post, Ally. I don’t know what your protocol is for posting a link on other forums? Do you have one?

    Going off the main topic of how this appalling crime was committed with social media in mind, I’d be interested in perspectives on something that struck me about this (and similar) incidents. I’ll admit I’ve felt uncomfortable with your points about compulsory conscription, Ally – in terms of the level of relevance it has to the lives of men in most countries right now. But I can completely get my head around the idea that these two young men were influenced by some sort of ‘warrior ethic’ that might be linked to male identity across cultures? People in general may be motivated to activism and recruited into causes to act against ‘the system’ (environmental activists, hunt saboteurs, animal liberationists etc). But young men in particular appear to be particularly vulnerable to recruitment into actions against other people, up to an including maiming and death. Growing up throughout the IRA mainland campaign, remembering the Brixton nail bombings and now seeing an apparent rise in physical attacks by religious fundamentalists, the message I seem to have been given is that it’s young (often working class) men who are actively recruited by organisations or motivated independently to carry out these kinds of attacks. Is this ‘warrior ethic’ something that men experience? And how much is class or economic disadvantage a factor?

    Because of the comments made in 11, I would just like to say this wasn’t my first thought on the subject. I’ve had literally hundreds during the day. But this was the idea I wanted to put forward and the question I wanted to ask. I’m still very new to posting in forums, and this blog is my first visit to Freethought Blogs, so my apologies if I drop appalling clangers.

  18. Ariel says

    Adiabat #11.3

    Why is there this constant need to pathologise what’s likely to be a simple misjudged post? I’ve been reading Ginkgo for a while and I don’t believe for a second that he didn’t think of the victims’ family first. It was most likely a booboo, a lack of thought into how his post, which is responding to Ally’s OP, would be perceived.

    Yes, you (and Vegan, by the way) may be quite right. Nevertheless, this still makes sellsword’s reaction understandable. What bothered me really was sellsword’s assumption that … I don’t know, that a crowd of angry FtB-ers will crucify him/her for this, or what? Why paint Ginkgo’s comment (and Ally’s OP) as a part of “current FtB climate”, with criticism being “likely to lead to an out of hand ban”? I have no idea. Remove this part from sellsword’s comment, and you will have something which doesn’t differ much from a lot of comments on FtB. You could understand where it comes from; you could even sympathize to some degree. And that was really my point: why should one make it harder to accept than it needs to be? Kill me, I don’t know.

  19. Adiabat says

    Ariel: “Yes, you (and Vegan, by the way) may be quite right. Nevertheless, this still makes sellsword’s reaction understandable”

    More than understandable, he is right! Ally’s post is in very bad taste. Couldn’t he at least have waiting for things to settle a bit before posting this? I know bloggers have a pressure to be ‘current’ but c’mon.

    “What bothered me really was sellsword’s assumption that … I don’t know, that a crowd of angry FtB-ers will crucify him/her for this”

    I’m new to FTB (came with Ally) and don’t really keep that up to date with the blogosphere but even I know that it has a bit of reputation for banning dissenting voices for rather spurious reasons. It’s true that each blogger controls his/her own blog but by blogging here they also willingly associate themselves with those who do over-wield the banhammer. That may be unfair, but that’s the nature of reputations. The important thing is to not live up to them, and slowly change minds.

    John Morales: Don’t you ever get bored endlessly posting nonsense?

  20. Ally Fogg says

    Hi Terrene

    Thanks for your great post, and yes, I do think this is entirely tied to the warrior ethic in which our culture is steeped. Of course it doesn’t always come out so horrifically, but it is rarely far away.

    And I have no problem with you linking to anywhere (within reason!) from the comments.

  21. Ally Fogg says

    Thanks for the comment, sellsword.

    I have no problem with disagreement, indeed I actively welcome it. There’s nothing in your post that would invite any kind of moderation far less a ban from me, I assure you.

    First thing to note, is I wrote this more than 12 hours before Lee Rigby was named, and it was primarily a piece about the media coverage of this murder, which was sensationalist to the point of hysteria and from which the victim had been all been erased. I realise this was largely due to family’s wishes in the immediate aftermath, but their decision (entirely personal, justified and understandable) amplified the focus on the killers and the multimedia presentation of the murder, to an extent I found deeply problematic

    As it happens, next on my list of jobs was to add an update with Lee Rigby’s name and details. With you shortly.

    How was this supposedly anonymous man (his name was Lee Rigby) NOT a casualty of hate exactly? Not a casualty of anger and madness, religion and politics?

    He is of course a victim of hate, anger and all the rest. However without the spectacle, without the media coverage, without the cameras he would still be alive today. That is why he is different to casualties of war, victims of racist murders or whatever.

    Unless we understand that, we will never understand why these things happen.

  22. splendi says

    I’m wondering what you thought about todays coverage in the Guardian? Pages and pages about the victim. More pages about the radicalisation of the men responsible.

    Would you still say that he was forgotten? A casualty of spectacle?

  23. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Adiabat:

    John Morales: Don’t you ever get bored endlessly posting nonsense?

    If I did, I might — but I don’t.

  24. Ginkgo says

    “If you can learn of a man being butchered in the streets and your first thought is not “My heart goes out to parents” or “My heart goes out to children”

    You are shit at mindreading, Sellsword. You have no idea what my forst thought was. Do you?

    I spnet years in the military, my son spent six, I know exactly what it means to be targeted by peole wanting to kill you. I probably know quite a bit more about it than you ever will, but I don’t know your background, so maybe we have that in common. My first thought was of his parents, and tyhen if he turned out to be maried of his wife and any child he might have, who would be left to grow up without knowing him. I assume that kind of thing is obvious. Apparently it’s not obvious enough for you. And you want to call me the dysfunctional one here?

    And then my second thought, I have to confess, was a pogrom, a statement-making pogrom – and I know I am not unsuual in that kind of raction. So immediatley I thought of how this must feel for British Muslims right now. So that motivated that comment.

    As for the fact that they have recieved a second insult, against their religion, that’s true too. When someone hiacks and defames some part of your identity, that is hateful. I lived long enough in Germany to see the psychic wound a lot of germans still carry from when someone did that decades ago.

    But this is the kind of thing only a human being is likely to understand.

  25. tynk says

    During my time enlisted in the US Army. I was deployed to Bosnia. In preparation for deployment we were instructed, briefly, on some of the social customs and what to expect, do, and not do. Part of it included the men being told not to go off base alone as their haircut, first and foremost, would make them a target of violence. Us women were told not to go off base because the our sex and assumption of equality would make us targets of violence.

    I say this because being deployed any ware makes us targets in one way or another. It’s when we get home that we should be able to start to feel safe again. Some countries this is more possible than others.

    I cried a lot when I read about this. He served his duty, he was home, a place that was supposed to be safe, a place he could recover and feel safe.

    He did not receive what he had earned. A time and place to recover…

  26. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    I must say, sellsword‘s comment is ridiculously stupid. There is nothing wrong with feeling sympathy for a group of people who likely spent many days cowering in their homes rather than risk the beatings and abuse they would likely recieve for having the nerve to look as though they might share a religion with the attackers.

    Sympathy for the family of the deceased goes without saying, and therefore obnoxiously public declarations of such are trite and boring. Frankly the sort of person who loudly and publicly voices their sympathy for the family of a victim in a forum where said family will never read or hear of it may as well just run around shouting “Look at me! What a nice and caring person I am!”. The message, and the intent behind it, is much the same; as is the effect.

    And by the way; FtB is not monolith. There are doubtlessly commenters and bloggers here who will agree with you, much as there will be some who agree with me, and some who have completely different opinions. Also, if you have to preface your comment with “Oooh, I’m going to get flamed for this!”, maybe consider whether what you’re about to say might be stupid enough to warrant some flame.

  27. Sellsword says

    Ally Fogg said:

    I have no problem with disagreement, indeed I actively welcome it. There’s nothing in your post that would invite any kind of moderation far less a ban from me, I assure you.

    Thank you for that, I appreciate it.

    John Morales said:

    First, it is you who introduced the claim that he is supposedly anonymous; second, it’s not dichotomous: it’s all of that and more.

    So, even though this blog post’s title refers to the unknown soldier and this blog post’s text clearly states “a young man about whom we know nearly nothing lies dead, unseen, unnamed (emphasis mine), all but forgotten”, I am apparently the one who introduced the claim that he is/was supposedly anonymous. How does that work exactly? As for the point about those points not being dichotomous, once again my statement was in response to a clear point from the original blog post that you apparently either didn’t read, or couldn’t remember -

    Ally Fogg said:

    he is a casualty not of war, not of hate, not of anger, not of madness, not of religion, not of politics.

    There isn’t really much that a reasonable person can say to you Morales; that your comments show no knowledge is a pity, but that they show no concern is a disgrace. You obviously think that every post is just a game; if that’s your attitude, you should at least try to get good at that game.

    Gingko said:

    And then my second thought, I have to confess, was a pogrom, a statement-making pogrom – and I know I am not unsuual in that kind of raction. So immediatley I thought of how this must feel for British Muslims right now. So that motivated that comment.

    I am genuinely unsure about what you’re trying to say here. Was your second thought that there would be a pogrom? That there should be a pogrom? I don’t want to comment further when I’m not certain what your point was.

    Thumper; Atheist mate said:

    I must say, sellsword‘s comment is ridiculously stupid. There is nothing wrong with feeling sympathy for a group of people who likely spent many days cowering in their homes rather than risk the beatings and abuse they would likely recieve for having the nerve to look as though they might share a religion with the attackers.

    Is there any evidence that this actually happened? Was there this period of “many days” when the Muslim population of Britain were “cowering in their homes”, not going to work or sending their children to school? No, because, to the credit of British Muslims, that never happened! But why let that stop you eh? Just go ahead and assert it regardless! Oh and you called my comment “ridiculously stupid”. Who could have the temerity to disbelieve you, when the rest of what you wrote shows such remarkable regard for the truth?

    If you have managed to reach whatever point in life you are at without realising why making stuff up out of whole cloth in an effort to bolster your position is dishonest, I’m not about to try to explain the reasons to you now, but don’t be surprised when your efforts are not seen as sincere in other fora, where a higher level of rigour is expected.

    The preface to my original comment was founded partly upon a (mistaken as it turns out) notion of how Ally was likely to treat my disagreement with his post, but also upon my view of the level of intellectual integrity likely to be displayed by many (not all, but many) FtB commentators. Posts like yours and Morales’, clearly vindicate that original view. They cannot be taken seriously.

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  1. [...] tribalism, fear and need for love which link current and pasts events. Over on his new blog space Ally Fogg also wrote of the media reaction, the leap to demonize and push agendas sweeping aside the death in the name of one cause of [...]

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