When Isis began to use trucks and vans as weapons of terrorism in Europe – in Nice, London and in other places – I set my internal watch to see how long it would take for anti-Islam activists to do the same. I’m not sure what this feeling is called. Perhaps ‘mimetic pessimism’ or something similar. But I was fairly sure that at some point there would be a copycat attack performed on Muslims.
This morning the newspapers are reporting that a Welsh man rammed a van into Muslims praying outside a Mosque in Finsbury Park, London.
So I decided to start this blog. I need to do something to alleviate my pessimism and to work out my approach to all this. After all, as Girard writes in Deceit, Desire and the Novel, understanding mimesis and acting on that understanding is a kind of conversion. So mimetic theory is always at heart about how we live.
It’s hard to know where to begin with an attack like this. It is a straightforward example of mimetic doubles: where the subject and mediator begin to change places during the mimetic crisis, adopting each others’ positions as they increasingly begin to resemble one another.
The attacker: middle aged white Welshman Darren Osborne, kids and a separated partner. His neighbour called him a “complete cunt” and he was apparently thrown out of a pub the night before the attack, whinging about Muslims. He had called a Muslim kid in the housing commission “inbred” before the attack. Osborne is unemployed, seemingly no prospects for a change of life, living in a housing commission. Reports are intimating he was mentally ill and had been “radicalised” after the attack on London Bridge and by following rightwing accounts on Twitter.
This is the position normally coded for “Muslim lone-wolf attacker”. It’s this kind of resentful, uprooted guy who, if Muslim, is meant to be tipped over the edge by Isis propaganda, radicalised by images circulated in the media of attacks like London Bridge or Nice.
Even the photo of Osborne published on stories has him making the Muslim “God is one” salute. Everything in the reporting says: this guy is a Muslim terrorist. Sure, they’re not wrong: Osborne is “a Muslim terrorist” insofar as his desire to kill has been mediated to him by Islamists. He has been totally colonised by Islamism, even to the point where he wanted the attack to end with suicide but couldn’t manage it, screaming out “Kill me!”
On the other hand, the Muslims adopt the position coded for “Christian”, with the local Imam and seniors of the Mosque holding back the rest of the crowd who were trying to kill him, and insisting on the peaceful nature of the community (Finbury Park was previously a radical mosque, but was since pacified after government intervention).
However, as one witness said:
“For that reason this guy is still alive today. This is the only reason. If the imam was not there, he wouldn’t be there today.”
And from another:
Adil Rana, 24, who was outside the mosque when the van drove towards the crowd, said some people had initially attacked the suspect.
“The driver jumped out and then he was pinned down to the floor and people were punching him and beating him, which was reasonable because of what he’s done. And then the imam of the mosque actually came out and said, ‘Don’t hit him, hand him over to the police, pin him down.’”
It really could have gone either way. At least one person in the community thought Osborne was about to be killed, and another said it was reasonable for him to be beaten because of what he’d done. Certainly from a Christian perspective this is not the case – we are told to forgive. I don’t know what Islam teaches, but I’d imagine that a British Imam in 2017 knows, above all, that even if a member of his community thinks it’s reasonable to mete out justice in this way, Muslims don’t get to kill. If they do, it will be further interventions by the state, more restraining, more controls.
Even though the Mosque was the victim, there is no sense that they are responsible for (or even entitled to) make their own assessment of what a just response looks like. Perhaps we can call this “State Islam”, in the same way as “State Christianity” poses no challenge to the right of the state to be the entity against whom sins are fundamentally committed, and who reserves the right to dispense justice. So yes, the Muslims here do occupy a fundamentally “Christian” position, although it’s one coded for them by the state. It’s this kind of degenerate “State Christianity” that violent, paganised and esoteric volk Christians on the alt-right are partly reacting against when they commit crimes like these – from Anders Breivik down to Osborne today. In much the same way the enemies of Islamism are predominantly so-called “moderate” Muslims.
What is most depressing about this latest attack is its utter barrenness. Much like the Islamist attackers whose aim is just to sow discord and violence in a society they resent and cannot hope to change, Osborne has mounted an utterly pointless attack on a seemingly well-functioning Muslim community. Impotence, resentment, suspicion – these are all signs of the metaphysically ill person. As Osborne was being hauled away in the back of the paddy wagon, he was blowing kisses and smiling, saying he’d done what he came to do.
That’s enough for the moment. I might write some more on it later this week as things develop. If it doesn’t make me too pessimistic…