Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Know your enemy
Steve Bell cartoon"This is the nightmare scenario that nobody in British society wanted to face… the massive nationwide investigation into the London bombings is one now focused on suspected British suicide bombers who believe their faith justifies their actions... In the hours after the bombings, faith leaders, senior police chiefs and ministers, launched an action plan prepared for an attack on British soil. That plan focuses on keeping communities together by very publicly differentiating between British Muslims and those who would seek to use a faith to justify atrocities. The strategy relied to some extent on the public seeing terrorism as a "foreign" threat"

This BBC analysis of the London bombings deals implicitly with the concept of otherness. What is interesting about this article is the way that representational strategies for otherness are being re-forged in the light of the news that British citizens are probably responsible for the bombings. What this article appears to be doing is twofold.

First, it is outlining in a common-sensical way the notion that psychologically speaking it is easier to externalise a enemy as some foreign ‘other’, rather than accept that the enemy might be ‘one of us’. With this revelation the tone of the article becomes more anxious – national cohesion itself it apparently under threat. Now it should be noted here that nowhere does the article seek to question or denaturalise assumptions about otherness, but rather to bolster them for what seems like propaganda purposes. I make this remark because of the way the BBC as a public service broadcaster has historically positioned itself as the promotor if not the instigator of a cohesive sense of national identity, to act in the words of Stephen Whittle, its controller of editorial policy, as the ‘social glue’ bonding the nation together. (This also ties in with Daniel Hallin’s notion of the sphere of consensus which I delt with in the previous post).

Second, the article itself is ironically part of this inevitable othering of the young men who blew themselves up in London last Thursday. The point is that the notion of otherness is essentially fluid, and in this respect is never constrained by notions of national identity, gender, religion etc. For example, take the case of the Cambridge four Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean and ‘Kim’ Philby. There could not be a more establishment group of people, but that did not stop them being represented as ‘the other’ in the form of the enemy within. (Indeed why else would we have the word ‘traitor’ in our language!) My point here is that the suicide bombers in London will become ‘the other’ no matter what their national origins.

More Links about otherness
1/ A lucid discussion of the concept of the other in relation to representations in advertising can be found here

2/ Otherness in the context of hatred of muslims. An article about Edward Said's Orientalism
"The depictions of "the Arab" as irrational, menacing, untrustworthy, anti-Western, dishonest, and--perhaps most importantly--prototypical, are ideas into which Orientalist scholarship has evolved."
3/ Visual representations of the otherness of anti-semitism can be found here.

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