What isn't being said about the Reading attack victims?

23 June 2020

6:45 PM

23 June 2020

6:45 PM

Imagine if on Saturday evening a white neo-Nazi had stabbed three men to death. Imagine, furthermore, if in the wake of the killings it had turned out that all three of the victims were gay. Or ‘members of the LGBT community’, to use the lexicon of the time. And then imagine if two days later nobody in the UK or anywhere else was very interested in any of this. So what if the victims were all gay? Why bother sifting around for motives. What are you trying to say? Bigot.

Well something that might well be analogous to that happened in Reading on Saturday evening and over the days since.

On Saturday evening, Khairi Saadallah went on a stabbing spree in Forbury Gardens, Reading. His victims were three gay men, James Furlong, David Wails and Joe Ritchie-Bennett. It has since emerged that the 25-year old suspect, who is now in police custody, came to the UK from Libya in 2012. He is reported to have come to the attention of MI5 last year as an individual who had the potential to travel overseas for terrorism purposes. The Security Service apparently decided that he was not an immediate risk.

The families of Furlong, Wails and Ritchie-Bennett might beg to differ on that last point. But who knows. So far there has been almost no interest expressed in the possible motives of the attacker. Quite possibly there is a mental health component. In which case I would expect that to be looked into. Quite possibly there will be some drugs-related component. In which case I would expect the usual voices to demand an investigation into that. But anything else to see here? Any other reason why a migrant from Libya who was given asylum in the UK might want to go around stabbing gay men? Well who would even ask such questions? What do you want to find? Bigot.

So far the most analysis there has been has been to inform us all of the wonderfulness of the victims. We can learn that the victims were not just ‘proud gay men’ who attended Reading Pride, but that at least one of them – Furlong – was also ‘a strong advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement.’ Perhaps Saadallah didn’t get that memo. Perhaps if he had known how involved in social activism his victims were then he would have left them alone and stabbed some people who never much bothered with such things, or kept themselves to themselves.

For the BBC – among most other major news outlets – every question that this case throws up remains stubbornly unaddressed and unaddressable. On Monday night’s News at Ten, the BBC managed to talk about the three Reading victims without once saying that the police think they might have been targeted because they were gay. All that there was that nodded to that possibility was a tribute from someone who said that the victims were part of the LBGT community.

Why leave nearly all the analysis out? Of course there were will be a trial, the due process of the law and so on. But if the attacker from Saturday night had been a white skinhead, or a neo-Nazi or had been wearing a big red MAGA hat I am fairly confident that the gay press and all of the mainstream media would be crawling over every angle of this story by now with an unparalleled fury, hurling allegations of ‘adjacency’ against all of their favourite enemies. As it is I am reminded of nothing so much as story after story over recent years. Stories like when Omar Mateen walked into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida four years ago and gunned down 49 people.

People know after a story like this that it isn’t good. They know that there’s more to say and doubtless more to see here. But they have made a very basic calculation. The calculation is that dead gays aren’t good. But they aren’t as bad – indeed they are a price worth paying – compared to asking any of the questions that sane people would ask after an attack like this. Sure we have a societal piety that is opposed to homophobia. But the societal piety which says that we should not risk ‘othering’ Libyan asylum seekers is stronger. The fear will be that talking about Islamic homophobia as a potential motive in this case might increase prejudice of some other kind. It’s a calculation of a very cynical and inept kind.

That is why the media is silent on this. It’s why the gay press is so muted. They are willing to take this sort of thing, absorb it and just hope it doesn’t happen too often. It’s a matter of hierarchies. And the gays aren’t as high up this one as people like to think.

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