Last weekend incredibly tragic news broke that a 19 year old girl had been gunned down outside a Blackburn supermarket in a drive-by shooting.
There were many notable characteristics about the victim. She was “beautiful, much-loved, bright, passionate, hard-working, and ambitious”. She was involved in charity work and was studying to fulfil her ambitions of becoming a solicitor. The one characteristic that overrode all of these however, at least in the minds of cynical and irresponsible ideologues, was that she was a Muslim.
This one fact inevitably rendered the devastating killing of Aya Hachem impossible for a lot of people to lament in anything more than fleetingly compassionate terms and her death was swiftly and callously transformed into a political football.
The New Arab news site interspersed it’s coverage of the story with commentary on incidents of “Islamophobia” in the UK and an obligatory mention of Boris Johnson’s burqa comments, the clear implication being that Hachem was likely a victim of anti-Muslim hatred.
Others went a lot further than mere implication.
Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, for example, was “so angry” that this young girl’s life had been taken in such a cruel and senseless manner that she hijacked her death to push conspiracy theories about the British media for Twitter clicks.
Presumably fighting back tears, she issued a tweet bemoaning the supposed lack of major press coverage and declaring that had the attacker been a Muslim he would have been designated as a terrorist.
Syrian filmmaker Razan Saffour took the opportunity to berate “Islamophobes” for “exacerbating racially motivated killings” of “visibly Muslim women” like young Aya.
Journalist Jason Michael McCann scoffed that it was typical of the British media to fail to report that the killing was an “Islamophobic hate crime.”
An apparent “Human and Civil rights activist” going by the Twitter name StanceGrounded likewise informed his 361,000 followers that the crime was motivated by Islamophobia. “She was shot and killed by a white man” he went on to say.
The proclamations made by these accounts were widely retweeted and echoed by swarms of smaller accounts using the hashtag #RIPAYA. Commonly recurring sentiments included; a conspiracy of media silence indicating that Muslim lives are of no value, reluctance to use the term “terrorism” because the perpetrator was white, and Aya’s death being a direct result of her Muslim identity.
I have no particular issue with people making political points in the wake of an act of violence, after all many such acts have political solutions and/or are committed for political reasons. To paraphrase counter-extremism expert Liam Duffy: The demand that people don’t “politicise a tragedy” is too often a demand that policy responses they disapprove of are not advocated.
But the political aspects of the aforementioned “commentary” were of a very different nature. This did not constitute advocacy of new or additional policy measures, nor did it represent considered criticism of existing ones. This was the propagation of conspiratorial nonsense, baseless conjecture, and fabrication dressed up as statements of fact. This reality would have been abundantly clear if the people propagating this knee-jerk idiocy had stopped for a second to absorb a single one of the countless and extensive reports issued across the entirety of the British mainstream media – ironically the very same reports that they were claiming did not exist.
It was widely reported that the police investigating the case had stated from the outset and in unequivocal terms that they did not believe the incident to be racially motivated, that there was no evidence that Miss Hachem was the intended target in this attack, and that there was instead “every indication that she was an innocent passer-by” who’d been struck by a wayward bullet.
The attack was therefore not being treated as terrorism by the police, and not on the basis that it “wasn’t committed by a Muslim” but on the basis that it was not an act of terrorism. Terrorism is clearly defined as being committed for a political purpose, and this shooting simply did not meet that definition. If it really were the case that this killing would have been reported as terrorism if it were carried out by a Muslim, we should expect to find myriad examples of mainstream media outlets inaccurately describing Muslim attackers as terrorists for non-terrorism related attacks. I’d be interested to see if Ms Mos-Shogbamimu or any of her ideological bedfellows could provide a single one.
As eye witnesses testified and as several media outlets recounted, this shooting was likely the result of an ongoing dispute with the car-wash/tyre garage (operating next-door to the Lidl store Miss Hachem was frequenting) being settled in appallingly violent fashion. It was almost certainly nothing to do with Hachem’s identity and far more likely to do with her being simply and tragically in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In fact the three primary suspects now reported to have been arrested over this killing – and rightfully without any reference whatsoever to “terrorism” – are Asian Muslim men. And so those claiming to know that the perpetrator was a white Islamophobe are apparently in possession of information that I would suggest needs reporting to the police immediately.
But I suspect such people’s concern for truth and justice is outweighed by their desire to spread their preferred narrative as far as possible.
The behaviour of those intent on groundlessly describing this as an Islamophobic act of terror, is indistinguishable from that of the populist-right and far-right who hear news of explosions or mass knife attacks in European cities and instinctively declare that the perpetrator is bound to be a Muslim fulfilling his duty to the “religion of peace”.
In fact there were several such Twitter accounts stating that this was in all probability an honour killing committed by Hachem’s own family on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. Others apparently felt no sense of shame in offering up the make of car used in the killing as evidence of the family’s involvement, being that the Toyota Avensis is a model regularly used by taxi drivers – and taxi drivers are Muslims presumably by definition.
These armchair detectives have seemingly failed to consider that of the 650 homicides in the UK last year, an estimated 1.8 percent were honour killings, and the number of deaths attributable to murderers motivated by “Islamophobia” was zero. Similar percentages are reported year in year out. In other words, such killings whilst horrific and incredibly concerning when they do occur, are vanishingly rare in comparison to standard non-religiously-infused murders.
Therefore, statistically speaking, and in the absence of case-specific evidence, murders in the UK are never “probably honour killings” nor are they likely to have been motivated by anti-Muslim hatred. And so the two most common motives this unspeakable crime was being attributed to, were two of the least likely to be accurate. But then the relative mundanity of reality is evidently not what people want to hear when it creates an obstacle to furthering their political agendas.
These two groups of opportunists are mirror images of each other and it’s difficult to shake the feeling that they wanted this to be an ideologically motivated murder. They all seemed desperate for this story to be something it probably wasn’t and the groans of disappointment in discovering that a 19 year old girl had very likely not been murdered on the basis of her religious identity or her skin colour, were virtually audible.
As push-back occurred and as facts began to be acknowledged, one of those attributing the murder to “Islamophobia” managed to issue a retraction of sorts, albeit of the “I may have been completely wrong but my point still somehow stands” variety, and one which inevitably gained significantly less reach than the original falsehood.
But others quietly deleted their tweets without comment and people including Mos-Shogbamimu have simply ignored their errors and done nothing to rectify them.
Perhaps in future such people might resist the impulse to circulate reckless falsehoods and thoughtless speculation, and simply wait upon the emergence of facts, even if only for the self-serving purpose of avoiding embarrassment. But in the meanwhile, as they fall over themselves to publicly broadcast their contemptible conspiracy theories, and to wantonly circulate misinformation in a bid to score asinine political points, a 19 year old girl lies dead.
My thoughts are with the family, friends, and colleagues of Aya Ismail Hachem.