Terror in Reading: look back in anger

The political class always tells us to forget about Islamist attacks. Let’s refuse to do that.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics UK

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

So who is to blame for the terror in Reading? What ‘climate of hate’ provoked this mass stabbing? Which ‘culture’ caused Khairi Saadallah, a refugee from Libya, to pick up a knife and wield it against innocent people sitting in the sunshine in a park? Which newspaper columnists or politicians or tweeters have blood on their hands for spreading prejudiced ideas that get into the heads of people like Saadallah and drive them to kill?

Whenever there is a far-right terrorist attack or act of racist violence, it is always followed by a hunt for ‘the cause’; for the book or the idea or the political climate that gave rise to these hateful monsters intent on slaughtering people for no other reason than the colour of their skin or their religious background. It was the Daily Mail’s fault. It was Boris Johnson’s. It was down to Brexit. It was critics of mass immigration who inspired this, who did this. Far-right violence is always viewed as a mere manifestation, a fleeting physical embodiment, of something larger and more evil – of a culture of hatred built or at least enabled by people in the political mainstream.

Will we witness a similar moral investigation post-Reading? Will we see the opinion-forming set and political class dig down to discover the intellectual and prejudicial origins of what seems to have been an act of Islamist violence in which three people were massacred for the sin, it appears, of being British citizens? (Though it transpires that one of them was an American citizen.)

Of course not. They never do this after an act of Islamist violence. They never apply their investigatory zeal to acts of barbarism carried out by radical Muslims. On the contrary, they urge us not to do that. Don’t ask awkward questions. Don’t wonder why a relatively significant number of young Muslims hate Britain so much that they will attack its people. Don’t even think about these attacks for very long. ‘Don’t look back in anger’, as they said about the slaughter of pop fans at the Manchester Arena in 2017, an attack that is seldom talked about anymore; an attack that has faded from the daily collective consciousness.

Whether it’s the Manchester bombing, the London Bridge mass stabbing, the Westminster Bridge vehicle-and-stabbing attack, or this weekend’s terror in a park in Reading, the response is always the same: ‘Lay a flower. Shed a tear. Move on. Don’t think about it. And absolutely don’t get angry about it. What’s wrong with you – are you Islamophobic?’

The double standards are staggering. Far-right violence is always held up as proof that there are dangerous hateful forces in the country; Islamist violence is never discussed in this way. Far-right violence is something we must get angry about and organise against; Islamist violence is something we must refuse to get angry about (that would be giving them what they want, apparently) and don’t even think about organising against it. Remember when thousands of football fans – men, women and children – peacefully marched with wreaths to signal their horror at recent terror attacks? They were denounced as fascists. This is the situation we find ourselves in now: we are told we must organise against far-right violence because these people are fascists, and we are told that if you organise against Islamist violence then you are the fascist. These are Kafkaesque levels of moral and political contortionism.

The double standard is best captured by the gaping disparity between what has been said in the UK about the brutal police killing of George Floyd and what is likely to be said about the killing of three people by a suspected Islamic terrorist in Reading. Despite happening 4,000 miles away, Floyd’s killing, and its aftermath, has dominated news coverage here. It has galvanised the activist middle classes. It has become the catalyst for change (smashing statues, ‘decolonising’ curricula, etc). The three victims of a suspected act of Islamist terror, in contrast, will swiftly be forgotten. It always happens. Their deaths will not come to signify anything.

Islamist violence is always removed from the moral universe that other political and violent acts are said to inhabit. It apparently has no cause, no meaning, no impact beyond the sad deaths it causes. It is not to be dwelt on, far less made the subject of any kind of wide-ranging public discussion. A culture of amnesia is deployed almost instantly in the wake of Islamist terror attacks. People’s emotions are policed (don’t get angry), their speech is monitored (don’t be ‘Islamophobic’), and they are encouraged to move on and forget. ‘Don’t look back in anger.’ Which really means: ‘Don’t look back.’

Make no mistake: this invoking of amnesia, this memory-holing of Islamist violence, is designed to suppress difficult discussion about social and communal tensions in 21st-century Britain. There is very often a censorious dynamic to the left’s hunt for the intellectual underpinnings of far-right violence. The blaming of newspaper columnists or un-PC politicians for acts of neo-fascistic violence is very often an attempt to chill public discussion and to make certain things – on immigration, Islamic practices, and so on – unsayable. We should not play that game after Islamist attacks. We should not engage in the culture of public blaming and shaming that exploits violent acts to the low end of silencing certain opinions and ideas. However, we absolutely must ask what these regular acts of extremist violence – which are far more destructive than far-right violence – tell us about the situation in the UK right now.

It is significant, surely, that the Reading attack occurred at the end of a week in which the cultural elite and chattering classes continually told us that Britain is a disgusting racist country and all white people are complicit in racism. There is a relationship, surely, between the anti-Western self-loathing that is now so fashionable among the intellectual elites and the rise of Islamist extremists in the UK and other European countries who view the West with hateful, violent contempt. It is interesting, surely, that Islamist violence against ordinary Brits should have intensified just as the political elites promoted new cultures of grievance that depict ethnic-minority groups, and especially Muslims, as victims of an ignorance and prejudice that is rife among ordinary Brits. It is important, surely, that a country that has largely given up on the project of assimilating migrants and their offspring into British values and culture, in favour of promoting an ideology of multiculturalism that invites people to remain in their own values bubble, should have a problem with community separatism, community tension, and even anti-British violence.

We must talk about these things. We must reject the silencing tactics of the terrorism-amnesia industry and be honest and open about the culture of grievance and hatred that the divisive ideology of multiculturalism seems to have fostered. Let’s look back in anger at what happened in Reading. More importantly, let’s look back with intellectual and political rigour in order to uncover the climate in which this hateful, extremist violence has been able to grow. And let’s remember the victims’ names. Perhaps they could be put on the back of footballers’ shirts in the next Premier League game.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today