Within minutes of the breaking news of the violent murder of Lee Rigby, his death was being linked to Islamic extremism and terrorism. On the same day as his death, members of The English Defence League were involved in violent clashes with police in Woolwich, their Leader Tommy Robinson stating “This issue is political Islam,” adding, “It’s political Islam that’s spreading across this country.” By Friday, the British National Party leader, Nick Griffin, had also visited and had tweeted that the alleged killers should be wrapped in “pig skin” and shot again. Four days after Lee Rigby’s murder, a so called copy-cat crime in France was reported on at least one national radio station, using this incident to illustrate the problem of Islamic extremism as an international one. Radical-Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary, a man only likely to intensify anger and hatred, was given a platform by both the BBC and Channel 4. 48 hours after Lee Rigby’s death, Islamophobic hate crimes were running at 10 times their usual rate.
Also in the news this week, were the arrests of eight people, six men and two women, by police investigating an arson attack in Huddersfield in 2002. The fire killed eight, two women, one young man and five girls, three others, two women and one man managed to escape. Three young men were arrested shortly after the incident, one charged with murder and two with manslaughter. A fourth was arrested and ran away whilst on bail, he still has not been caught. Petrol was poured through the letter box, the house had been destroyed by the time fire engines had arrived, just four minutes after neighbours had called them upon hearing the windows smash as petrol-bombs were thrown into the house. That seven of the eight victims were women or girls and the four held responsible all young men seems to have evaded anyone’s notice. I wish I could believe that the omission of mention of the race of both victims and perpetrators meant that this was not seen as important, that it was a reflection of a society where people are valued equally, but I don’t. Every report has included the names of the dead, those who escaped and those charged. All but one of them, their visiting grandmother, were born and grew up in Huddersfield. Their names tell us that they were of south Asian descent. I wish I didn’t cringe at the photo and description of the ‘modest house’ in which 11 people were sleeping, believing this innocuous-sounding phrase, to be a judgment; and like the list of names, to be a statement of ‘other’.
It’s days since Lee Rigby was killed, there has been much discussion about the causes of extremism yet the issue of gender has been all-but ignored despite the glaring over representation of men, whether radical-Muslim, EDL or BNP. According to the Tell MAMA (Measuring anti-Muslim attacks) project, (in data collated before Lee Rigby’s death) 58% of anti-Muslim attacks reported to them are against women and girls with a 2:1 ratio of women victims in Islamic clothing compared to men in Islamic clothing, 75% of perpetrators are male and 54% of all cases are linked to supporters of the EDL and BNP. The gender patterns are clear – and predicable – to anyone who cares to look for them.
The heads of nearly 100 mosques have signed an open letter in which they describe the “absolute horror” that they share with the rest of British society at the crime committed “in the name of our religion”. Similarly, every EDL march is met with opposition, from both anti-fascist groups and members of local communities who want to make it known that the hatred and rhetoric of the EDL is not in their name.
So far this year, I’ve counted 39 UK women killed through suspected male violence. But the only voices linking these crimes are feminist ones. Mainstream media steadfastly refuses to make connections between sexism, misogyny, domestic and sexual violence and killing women. Identifying trends and making links is important, it helps us to identify causes and therefore – where there is the will – the potential to find solutions and create change. Why hasn’t a COBRA meeting been called to look at fatal male violence against women? Immediately when race or religion is a factor in violence, it is identified, named and often met with retaliation. Why isn’t it the same with sexist and misogynistic murder? The murder of Lee Rigby was abhorrent, but any murder is abhorrent. There should be no hierarchy. Could it be that it is only when the primary aggressors are those acting against, not reinforcing the dominant ideology, that the majority make links?
1 Tayyaba Batool, 13, Rabiah Batool, 10, Ateeqa Nawaz, 6, Aneesa Nawaz, 2, Najeeba Nawaz, 6 months, their mother Nafeesa Aziz, 35, and their uncle Mohammed ateeq-ur-Rehman, 18, their grandmother, Zaib-un-Nisa, 54.