How do we comprehend the assassination of David Amess?
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
Conservative MP David Amess was assassinated on Friday 15th; his death has been treated as a terrorist incident (having been murdered by a 25 year old Briton of Somali heritage, with apparent links to Islamic extremism); Priti Patel has issued for an immediate review of MP’s security; Boris Johnson has given Amess’ constituency of Southend city status as a tribute (having city status ushers in no new perks for the people there, however: it does look good on paper).
And that sums up the information given out thus far. By and large, articles reporting on the death of David Amess are filled with lengthy quotes of condolences for the family, and eulogies of how kind a man he was. We are also told that Amess’ assassination was an attack on democracy.
This is all very well; nobody denies it was an attack on democracy. But it leaves a lot of questions hanging in the air. Why exactly was Amess assassinated? We are given a clue: that loaded phrase ‘Islamic extremism’ is meant to encapsulate both an analysis and explanation of what has happened. It is left to the reader’s imagination to fill in the gaps, putting another link in the chain spanning 9/11 to the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan via Jo Cox. Upon which we realise that ‘terrorist attack’ or ‘extremism’ has largely become an empty idea filled with impressions. It explains away what happened without really illuminating anything. It is presented to us as if it was completely out of the blue, chaotic, unpredictable; terrorist incidents appear on the news like natural disasters. Terrorism just occurs, and that is all.
Recycle your tin cans; watch your language. Faced with something seemingly incomprehensible like terrorism, the public are roped in. Many commentators and other MPs have appealed to the cessation of hateful speech, especially online, for hate breeds violence. Responsibility is subtly thrust onto the public at large. To stop terrorism, like climate change, is your own responsibility. Don’t be angry, don’t use hateful words; hate and anger are the weapons of terrorism.
And then comes the interesting part: an explicit link is made to Angela Rayner’s comment referring to the Tories as “scum” with the assassination of Amess. Some deny there is a link, but now there is a suspicion where there wasn’t one before. The terrorist incident is now associated with the Labour Party, the opposition. Are we, then, lead to the conclusion that Rayner’s words were also an implicit attack on democracy? And how now does the public look upon people of Somali heritage? We are told not to be angry, but to be responsible and polite at all times, to be tolerant even of intolerance - right up to the point where, if you are sympathetic to Rayner’s comment, you must not call a spade a spade. It is interesting how far and how quickly we have moved away to the actual events of the assassination to the ‘moral of the story’.
This is not meant to sound like conspiracy theorising. In reading of assassinations, trying to comprehend all the threads of an event, the reader finds the role of conspiracy theorist thrust upon them. While the fact of the assassination is established, it comes to us framed with few details, and that absence of further facts of the event, there is instead a saturation of hints, provocations, and insinuations.