What happened to 15-year-old Syrian refugee Jamal is not an isolated incident. Dehumanisation is a prerequisite to hate-based violence.
On Wednesday, 28 November, footage of the disturbing assault on a 15-year-old Syrian refugee went viral. The bully forces him to the ground, hand gripping his neck, and pours water down his throat, shouting, “I’ll drown you!” The boy, whose name is thought to be Jamal, is visibly injured; he wears a cast around his arm, the result of another, prior incident. It has emerged that Jamal’s sister has also been a victim of bullying so heinous that it has led her to self-harm by cutting her wrists. In an article on Huffpost UK, it was revealed that the boy referred to as Jamal even went to his local MP, Barry Sheerman, in person, pleading for help. Sheerman said:
“The young man himself turned up at my office and told me he was being bullied and appealed for my help. His father does not speak any English and his mother speaks very little English, but the boy is quite fluent, so decided to come to me in person.”
As this is a case involving minors, names are being withheld, though this has not stopped many from trying to identify the perpetrators, with some going so far as to send death threats to the alleged attacker and his family. We are advised to not share the video or alleged social media profiles of those involved. It is alleged that the attacker’s social media profiles are populated with content from Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (pseudonym Tommy Robinson)–who has, unsurprisingly, exploited the incident in a classic example of deflection–Boris Johnson, Britain First, and other far-right material. This is an ongoing investigation and, as such, will prompt much speculation. I am not interested in doing police work.
I am indignant at the people who have created a climate in which this should have ever been possible in the first place.
The sort of bristling hatred that leads school-aged children to so viciously attack their peers is not a whim. It is the product of something that has been festering over time. Dehumanisation is a prerequisite to hate-based violence, the sort of violence in which a teenage boy declares he is going to drown another in an act all too reminiscent of waterboarding–all while undoubtedly aware of the victim’s history as a refugee from Homs, Syria, which has suffered years of war and devastation. Dehumanisation precedes the sort of violence in which a girl tears the headscarf off another, aware of its symbolic significance, aware of the humiliating effect forcibly removing it will have on her victim.
To those of us who retain a shred of humanity, the abominable, hateful nature of these attacks is obvious–and deeply saddening. But to the likes of those who have contributed to the very culture of dehumanisation of which these acts are only symptomatic, this should come as no surprise.
It should come as no surprise to those who contemptuously express skepticism over the ‘true nature’ of ‘refugees,’ derisory quotation marks bracketing a word they use as a scare tactic. It should come as no surprise to those who portray asylum seekers as hordes of frightening, hostile invaders, akin to Germanic sacking tribes of old. It should come as no surprise to those who show footage of scary, brown-skinned ‘others’ raucously jeering, footage captioned ‘Look at what these Muslims are doing to our country!’, footage later revealed to be of simple revellers celebrating a football match in their own home country. It should come as no surprise to those who travel through immigrant communities in London, filming and framing store and restaurant signs in Arabic as an insidious takeover, captions reading any various, colourful iteration of ‘Is this Arabia or Britain?’ It should come as no surprise to those who rally around far right politicians, praising their ascendance to the mainstream for their ‘tough stances,’ their willingness, nay, eagerness to eschew the conventions of stifling ‘PC’ culture so that they may engage in a little bullying themselves.
“It should come as no surprise to those who rally around far right politicians, praising their ascendance to the mainstream for their ‘tough stances,’ their willingness, nay, eagerness to eschew the conventions of stifling ‘PC’ culture so that they may engage in a little bullying themselves.”
To those who take matters into their own hands and disrupt humanitarian efforts, boats carrying refugees in the Mediterranean; to those who pander to a lucrative market slaking people’s lust for a convenient scapegoat, profiting from complex geopolitical conflicts and reducing them to a single, marketable factor; to those who choose to exclusively denigrate entire swaths of humanity as less than simply for their religion because it is somehow acceptable to generalise, to collectivise under false pretences of ‘exposing the truth,’ as though it were all some grand conspiracy kept under wraps–this is the result you were warned about.
The truth, unfortunately for such opportunists with no scruples, is another one. It is that they are entirely responsible for the fear mongering that always leads, and always has led in history, to these attacks. I will wait for more information. We will all be waiting to see how this plays out. But the end is irrelevant because the beginning is where the problem lies, and should it result that, by some extraordinary circumstance, this is not a hate-based crime, everything I have written will still hold true. We are responsible for making our schools safe, for countering the propaganda that divides us, for exposing people who capitalise on those divisions and making them feel unwelcome and ashamed to spread their poison.
“We are responsible for making our schools safe, for countering the propaganda that divides us, for exposing people who capitalise on those divisions and making them feel unwelcome and ashamed to spread their poison.”
When people throw all their life savings at smugglers just for a chance at life, when they are tortured and extorted by these same for even more cash, when they climb into small rubber dinghies and risk death by drowning, when they leave everything they have ever known and loved to face an uncertain future, when they work meagre and thankless jobs in their host countries just to be spat at and mocked and made to feel they are unworthy–then they are not our enemies. They are entrusting us with their lives. And we have utterly failed as a society if–through our retweets, our likes, our complicity, our silence, our yielding, in a moment’s weakness, to the mirage of a promised ‘safety’ in exchange for our humanity–we raise new generations who instil fear in those who have known the fear of wars.
Sarah Mills is a managing editor and writer at Uncommon Ground Media.