The brutal and very public murder of soldier Lee Rigby on a Woolwich street in London yesterday afternoon has sent reverberations of shock throughout the capital and the rest of Britain. Not only was the attack reported to be particularly macabre, with machetes and knives used, but the release of footage showing one of the presumed culprits, hands bloodied, making political statements against the British government added to the unease of civilians worried about both further attacks and possible retributions.
Early reports suggest the attack was religiously and politically-motivated with the perpetrators seemingly Muslims targeting a British soldier in the most full-blooded anti-war statement possible. The attacker caught on camera spoke of women and children in “his country” being exposed to the type of violence he perpetrated “every day” (a probable reference to the ongoing War in Afghanistan) and warned that “you people will never be safe”.
Such a graphic message has the power to instill a rampant fear in the public. For, at the base level, one of our greatest concerns is the random attack; the public act of violence. It is often indiscriminate, occasionally seeking maximum collateral damage, and has become a constant, if underlying, threat in modern society.
The gun violence in the US over the past year, along with the Boston Marathon bombings, has sent a reminder that nobody is safe in today’s world, even when performing the most mundane tasks like going to school or visiting a coffee shop.
The proliferation of weapons, coupled with a growing population, inevitably leads to more violent confrontations. But there is also a growing awareness amongst terrorist organisations and disturbed individuals alike that targeting members of the public is the most effective way of distributing a “message”; the best way to instill fear.
1995 brought the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, committed by a religious cult targeting the government through its people. Many Japanese did not use the subway system for months afterwards, a sentiment shared by some of London’s population following the 7/7 bombings in 2005.
Over the past few years, China has witnessed a horrifying spree of stabbings within primary schools, with children butchered to death by lunatics either alienated by a modernising society they cannot cling onto or hooked on violent video games that corrupt their reality.
Of course one cannot live in constant fear of attacks by extremists or reprisals by those that have suffered. As mentioned recently on this blog, it takes an event such as the Boston Marathon bombings or the Woolwich murder to remind people of their perpetual insecurity.
The nature of the public act of violence is that there is no exclusivity. It is not reserved for those with a political/religious motive or for madmen wanting to go out in a blaze of glory. It comprises a disturbing possibility, an undercurrent to society that one cannot entirely ignore. Complacency will always be eradicated; vigilance is often futile.
It is out of respect to the slain, and in defiance of the evil, that we must try our best to carry on as normal.