by D. Sohi
The recent van attack in Münster, Germany on 7th of April, 2018 witnessed the usual social media and press flurry: Who was the perpetrator? Which organisation did they belong to? They must be Muslim. Cue the influx of “solutions” from social media users on how to deal with this problem--unsettling solutions intimidating for any person of colour to read, particularly as those users are sympathetic to, or are aligned with, right and far-right organisations.
The perpetrator was reported to be mentally ill and known to the police. The perpetrator was a white German national. This did not prevent assumptions about the racial and religious background of the man responsible, prior to be release of more details on the case. In presuming that terrorists can only be brown Muslims, white terrorists and far-right European groups fly under the radar, escalating the problem.
Every attack, of either terrorist or non-terrorist nature, impacts all sectors of society. However, the impact on brown people is two-fold. Brown people in the West are at risk of being victims of these attacks, like any other members of the public, in addition to being recipients of the fear and backlash in the aftermath. After all, terrorist attacks provide a football to be bounced around by politicians across the political spectrum. The issues surrounding immigration rear their heads to create an atmosphere of distrust and hostility towards anyone perceived as an immigrant, even those who are second- and third-generation. The fallout from the British EU Referendum (colloquially referred to as “Brexit”) even saw a surge of anti-foreign confrontations and verbal abuse on public transport. This air of hostility is acutely felt by brown people, who often wonder how safe they are in such an environment.
A reflex is experienced by any person of colour, particularly those of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent, whatever their religious backgrounds or political beliefs: "I hope those responsible for these attacks aren’t brown." This seems like a selfish response to the murder and maiming of innocent people, yet it’s a common one. As terrorist attacks increase, so does the reflex. Guilt follows, that the first response should be centered on the victims rather than personal safety. The media doesn’t address this experience, choosing to focus on terrorism and character profiles of the perpetrators. The incident of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 was one of the few cases of racial profiling and othering illuminated by the media, thus acknowledging the danger minorities face in the aftermath of attacks. Given the suspicion towards people of colour, it appears the reflex is justified.
The balance needs to be redressed. Society needs to acknowledge this dual-threat posed to people of colour. Unwillingness to acknowledge why such a reflex exists drives ethnic minorities further into silence. Lack of this dialogue drives brown people into isolation in society: a fractured and incohesive society is a failed one.
Terrorism affects people from all walks of life. Terrorists come from all walks of life. To focus on one section, rather than consider all sections, is detrimental. Once this is universally acknowledged, the issue of terrorism can be tackled more effectively.