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By Jason Michael

TERRORISM IS NOT NEW.  This tactic of asymmetric warfare has been in the background of all our lives for as long as we can remember. Not even is this a novelty of the ‘modern world.’ State and non-state actors, in pursuit of their political and ideological objectives, have employed terroristic methods for as long as there have been disequilibria in the balance of power. Almost every armed insurgency in history, when the rebellion was against a more powerful force, depended on methods and tactics which would now be neatly summarised under the heading of terrorism. Over the past twenty years I have had a number of brushes with terrorism. In 2000, while enjoying a pint in a Derry pub, dissident Republicans delivered a pipe bomb to a bank around the corner. On the way to a friend’s wedding in Guernica I narrowly missed being at the scene of an ETA car bombing in Bilboa. In 2006 I was stranded in Frankfurt during the liquid bomb plot panic. In 2014 I had a G&T in the bar of the Marhaba Hotel, which, shortly afterwards, was the scene of a mass shooting.

It’s enough to make any rational person conclude that it’s me they’re after, but – joking aside – this is the reality we all share; this is how terrorism works. Anyone, anywhere, and at any time can be the victim of the horrific and barbaric actions of terrorists. Sure, the very name we give it describes its purpose – to terrorise, to keep everyone suspended in anxiety and fear, never knowing when and where the perpetrators will strike next. The intention of terrorism is to persuade people to think and behave in a particular way, to put pressure on their governments to make it stop – and, by this, the terrorists mean that we stop our governments waging war in their countries. But the terrorists are not the only people who have a use for terrorism. Fictive terrorism does not mean that terrorism is a fiction. Quite clearly it’s not. But fictive terrorism describes how our governments use terrorism to their own ends, and it’s this I want to discuss here in relation to what is happening in the United Kingdom.

You might have noticed that Brexit has entirely replaced terrorism – the staple of British news between 2001 and 2016 – in the UK’s broadcast and print media. Not even the suicide bombing of the Manchester Arena in May 2017 was able to unseat the Brexit agenda from our television screens for more than a month, which is interesting considering the British media’s prior behaviour in response to non-fatal acts of terrorism and terrorism stories from other western countries. Immediately, this tells us that, insofar as the British media is concerned, Brexit is more important than what was until June 2016 the most important news, sine qua non. But it tells us something else too; it tells us that, at a deeper level, the fictive terrorism narrative and Brexit are the same story.

It is no coincidence that leaving the European Union at any cost most excites the same people who spearheaded the street-political campaigns against the entirely invented fear of the introduction of Sharia law, against the replacement of ‘our way of life’ – a well established code for white supremacism – with something ‘Mooslamic,’ with something essentially foreign and dangerous, and for banning every form of female dress signifying Islamic faith and tradition. The entirely manufactured moral panic over so-called Muslim grooming gangs and Brexit, especially in light of the [Syrian] refugee crisis, are the same story. It is no coincidence Brexit was sold to these people with not-too-subtle dog whistles; where ‘taking back control’ was made a border issue and the dread shifted from Polish immigration – which was never an issue (and nor should it have been) – to the wholly bogus threats of mass immigration from Turkey and a Syrian refugee takeover – both Muslim countries. Anglo-British chauvinism, Euroscepticism, and genuine concerns about the dangers of globalisation may have been there in the architecture of Brexit, but there is no denying that selling it to the British public was an exercise in populism and in marketing racist Islamophobic tropes.

The common thread running through Brexit and fictive terrorism is Islamophobic racism, and nowhere was this exposed more clearly than in the mainstream media’s coverage of the murder of Jo Cox. Any definition of terrorism has to include Cox’s assassination; her killer was a religio-political fanatic hell bent on sowing fear among soft-target politicians and activists working against his ideology. Yet, he was white and British. He did not fit the racist narrative of fictive terrorism and so he was not treated in the British media as a ‘radicalised’ terrorist, and his horrific act of violence against an elected representative was not treated as terrorism. The ‘terrorism’ of the British media is racialised, and Brexit – from the very beginning – has been racialised, therefore explaining the massive spike in racist violence and intimidation in England in the weeks and months following the vote. Brexit and terrorism – as purposefully racialised subjects – are the same story, but how does this explain Brexit replacing the sexy, high-octane terrorism narrative?

The simple and logical answer to this question is that Brexit was the goal of Britain’s fictive terrorism narrative. Islamist terrorists, the likes of Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra, and ISIS, have their own agendas, for sure, but so too does the British state-aligned media. By presenting acts of terrorism and the threat of terrorism as a specifically racialised subject, by fomenting fear of Muslims and immigration from majority Muslim countries the media has successfully manufactured a climate in which voters in the UK were prepared to see the cost of leaving the EU – even in a disastrous no-deal situation – as a price worth paying for security. Democracy and freedom are fragile things, something which Benjamin Franklin forewarned: ‘Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.’ And this is precisely where Brexit has landed us. We have allowed ourselves to be persuaded that our liberties guaranteed by membership of the EU were worth sacrificing to keep us safe from brown people. Now, of course, we have to pay the price for that.

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Tighter borders won’t prevent homegrown terrorism


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