At the time I sit down to write this, a large portion of the City of London - my current home away from home - is still locked down, with emergency services scrambling in response to what was declared at 12:25am to be another act of terrorism in the nation’s capital. The response to the incident on social media was more rapid than that of the authorities - and racist slander and xenophobic taunts took mere seconds to surface.
I’ve a tab on my laptop opened to a Sky News live feed. Should new information about the developing situation come through, I feel it’s necessary I stay informed. I’d be wrong to say that I’m not fearful right now, because tonight’s events are both literally and figuratively hitting too close to home.
Since I’ve tuned in, Sky have played and replayed a particular piece of footage shot on a mobile phone, in which police are seen entering a restaurant in the London Bridge area. As officers shout at the already terrified patrons to get down on the ground, another male voice is heard over them - “Muslim c***s!”.
This unknown man’s response is not dissimilar to the sentiments popping up as comments on Facebook. Comments like “The f***ing Muslims again!”, or “This is what we get for letting them in...” appear below the stream of “It’s okay, i’m safe” statuses, or “Thoughts and prayers are with people in London right now” posts. Messages of reassurance and positivity diminished by unnecessary animosity and bigoted hearsay. But it’s really the shared items - articles with live updates, links to a news channel live feed, amateur images and footage taken by people in the London Bridge and Borough Market area around the time of the attack - that become fodder for remarks that echo the same attitudes as can be heard in the restaurant video.
I respect that every individual responds to situations differently - I’m not sure how I would react had I been near the incident tonight, and am hopeful I never need find out. Therefore I cannot all-out demonise this man for his comment made in the middle of a more than stressful event. He is merely responding to an incident he became directly involved in. However, this being said, I can still disagree with his ‘choice words’ - his statement is one I do not condone, just as I don’t condone the callous remarks I’ve seen on social media since.
Generalisations are dangerous and destructive, in any context. We harm ourselves when we stereotype members of our community based on factors like race and religion, because we only reinforce division and fuel fear. When attacks like the one this evening occur - as in Westminster a few months ago and Manchester even more recently - we need to be able to draw strength from the wider community and adopt a collective approach to generating positive morale, offering appropriate support and resources, and keeping each other informed of developing situations with unbiased facts. And with this comment on bias, I want to be clear that I am not attacking free speech - I’m attacking the surge of hateful language and conjecture that experiences a rebirth in the wake of every such event.
Discrimination shouldn’t be anybody’s default. Prejudice doesn’t need to be an option. Hate is not obligatory.
The only true obligation we have, as global citizens, is to uphold values of unity and community in the face of such adversity.
To anybody still unclear when it comes to such fundamental values, I can only offer you this brief lesson:
Muslim people are not extremists. Extremists are extremists.
Muslim people are not terrorists. Terrorists are terrorists.
Muslim people are, individually, valuable members of society - just as you are a valuable member of society.
Cease to synonymise any one group of people with fear and suspicion, and you contribute to the construction of a more sympathetic, understanding and compassionate world.
Thank you, and stay safe.