The attack on the Dover migrant centre on the 30th of October passed with suspiciously little coverage from media outlets and a reticence on behalf of the police to identify the incident for what it was: an attack motivated by extremist ideology. The fact that it was spurred by far-right ideology and perpetrated by a white Briton, I wryly suspect, may have something to do with it.
Initially the attack was not labelled as terrorism and the counter-terrorism police were reportedly not involved. It was not until almost a week later that it was officially declared a terrorist attack, by which time a lot of the media had moved on to discuss other things. This delay and apparent reticence to call the attack what it was is especially interesting given that the government’s own website defines terrorism as “serious violence against a person, endangering a person’s life, creating a serious risk to the health or safety of the public for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause”.
With this definition established, it is difficult to understand why the firebombing of a building housing hundreds of refugees was not immediately counted as a terrorist attack, especially given the racist and Islamophobic sentiments expressed on the man’s Facebook shortly before the attack.
This muted response, and potentially the attack itself, are symptomatic of the UK government’s attitude to the current migrant crisis. Most notably, the inflammatory rhetoric used by the home secretary Suella Braverman, describing the arrival of migrants on the southeast coast as an “invasion” and of course the policy to send migrants arriving to this country to Rwanda.
The language and policies used by the government in recent weeks in response to the migrant crisis of course cannot be directly linked to the attack. However, it seems pretty clear that the perpetuation of hate against migrants and the ‘othering’ that we have seen from both the government and right-wing media outlets undeniably contributes to a general atmosphere of hostility and a heightening of tensions.
The issues here then are twofold. The attack has highlighted the UK’s muted response to terrorism when it is motivated by extreme right-wing ideology, and it shows that a consistent anti-migrant rhetoric and extreme policies have dangerous consequences.
This attack should be a wake-up call for the government to take greater caution about using language which is so divisive. The reporting and response to the attack should also ring alarm bells in terms of how far-right extremism is dealt with in the UK. It is of equal threat to any other kind of extremism and should therefore be treated with the same gravity.
“Exercise Arden – MOCK terrorist attack. Emergency response.” by West Midlands Police is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.