by D. Sohi
In a previous article for The Brown Orient, I discussed the dual threat brown people face in the West: terrorism and backlash from the right-wing and white extremists. I argued that brown people are equally at risk of falling victim to terrorism, hatred, and suspicion.
Over the years there have been several instances of the scenario described above. A few such cases, in particular, caught my attention. On 19th September 2018, the driver of a car aimed to run over worshippers leaving a Mosque in North London. It was reported that the driver shouted anti-Muslim Phrases at them. Despite this, the Police announced that they were not treating it as an act of terrorism. Even when the event was reported on social media, the word "terrorism" was never used. I found this strange, yet unsurprising.
Another perturbing incident also took place when Dr. Sarandev Bhambra, a Sikh dentist in Wales, narrowly escaped a machete attack by a white supremacist; however, the news afforded little to no coverage. It was merely labelled as an "‘attack", and only the outlets serving the British Asian demographic called it a ‘terrorist attack’. Bhambra’s relatives even spoke out on the need to apply the term to this event: "We are in no doubt that had the racial disposition of this case been reversed this would be reported as an act of terror with a wider media coverage." Such an assured and unambiguous statement reflects what many people of colour think to themselves, or quietly share with relatives. We are shunned when we try to draw attention to this discrimination. However, each time the government and the Home Office hasten to warn us of Britain’s terrorism levels and instruct us on how to handle an Islamic terrorist attack – where is the similar outreach for people of colour facing white supremacy? The imbalance is not addressed enough.
The larger question remains: why were neither examples labelled "an act of terror"? To answer this, the definition of terrorism needs to be scrutinised. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defines terrorism as "The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence, instilling fear and terror, against individuals or property in an attempt to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, or to gain control over a population, to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives." Aiming your vehicle at members of the public, while using extremist language against members of a particular faith/ group falls under NATO’s definition. Trying to hack a brown man with a machete because he is wrongly identified as a threat is terrorism, yet the media still hesitates to highlight his.
With regard to the Mosque attack, surely Islamophobic attacks and terrorism are not mutually exclusive? To continuously describe such attacks as Islamophobic suggests terrorism cannot be fuelled by fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims. This leads to a complacency towards attacks against Muslims and anyone perceived to be a terrorist. On a base level, the reluctance to correctly identify violence against South Asians implies that we cannot be victims of terrorism; we can only be potential terrorists, nothing more.
So what prompted police to rule out terrorism from the Cricklewood Mosque attack? Maybe it was the fact that the perpetrators were intoxicated and, so far, there is no evidence they were part of political movements. If lack of premeditated plotting/supremacist paraphernalia is the benchmark for measuring terrorists, then the supremacist who attacked Dr. Sarandev Bhambra falls under this category and should have been considered to do so as well. Police discovered Nazi literature in the home of Dr. Bhambra’s attacker, which should be adequate for describing this attack as terrorism.
There are two possible reasons behind media’s failure to correctly identify acts of terror. The first: more awareness/education is needed. If the definition is discussed in more detail, there is less likely to be any uncertainty. This seems like an obvious solution, however, given the unwillingness to explore what is meant by terrorism and "terrorist activity", it needs to be emphasised. The second (and more obvious reason) would be bias. There seems to be an unquestioned assumption that Muslim/brown people are linked to terrorism. Anything outside this mindset is unthinkable.
Attacks against people of colour, or any faith, need to be afforded equal representation in the news. Minorities already face a lot of danger and we need our voices to be heard. The government needs to take attacks against people of colour – especially South Asians – more seriously. It should not be acceptable that brown people have to face two types of challenges: Islamic terrorism and White supremacist terrorism. If not, this cycle will continue.