From Michael Green to Michael Adebolajo: what counts as ‘terrorism’ in London?

From Michael Green to Michael Adebolajo: what counts as ‘terrorism’ in London?


The vicious murder of a man in Woolwich. The initial statement by Metropolitan Police detective chief superintendent, Simon Letchford, did not describe this as a terrorism related incident. Letchford referred to it as an “assault” involving weapons and firearms, and urged people to “avoid unnecessary speculation” about the circumstances surrounding this death. However, footage was broadcast showing one of the attackers justifying his crime with reference to religion and British foreign policy. Subsequently, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, announced a new dimension: “We have launched a murder investigation, being led by the Counter Terrorism Command”. The media had already seized upon this aspect of the incident, portraying an isolated attack as part of a “War on the West”. The victim was a serving soldier. Every national newspaper carries on their frontpage this morning the image of a young black man, wielding a bloodied kitchen knife and a meat cleaver. This can only reinforce stereotypes about people from already stigmatised communities. The image of the murderer stands for a whole race, and a whole religion. The Bishop of Woolwich voiced concern that he did not want the murder to “stir up hatred” in a diverse community. And yet the implications of this murder are national, not just local. How many discriminatory laws will follow? The more immediate consequences are already evident.

Within hours of the murder, there were reports of ‘revenge’ attacks on completely unrelated places of worship, which were not even in the same city. A mosque in Kent was vandalised, and a man was arrested in Essex for an attempted arson attack on another mosque. The leader of the English Defence League (EDL), Tommy Robinson, used social media to mobilise his ‘infidels’ in London. By nightfall, a gang of white men, dressed remarkably like loyalists paramilitaries, roamed the streets of Woolwich. Riot police treated the EDL as a public order situation [use of Section 60 powers] rather than counter-terrorism. The BBC and Daily Mail referred to this vigilantism as a “protest”.

Surprisingly, the UKIP leader Nigel Farage has not sensationalised the murder, describing it as an “isolated incident”. Perhaps he wanted to distance his party from the EDL’s predictable response? In contrast, Prime Minister David Cameron seemed eager to fit this into the wider discourse of Islamic Terrorism, claiming Britain will “never give in to terror or terrorism”. The BBC has named one of the suspects as Michael Adebolajo. It has been forgotten that in April last year, an unemployed White Englishman, Michael Green, tried to blow himself up on Tottencourt Road. Green was a former BNP candidate. That incident was specifically not termed “terrorism” by the Police, and was kept out of the media spotlight.

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