November 2018

New Research: The subjective and objective violence of terrorism: analysing “British values” in newspaper coverage of the 2017 London Bridge attack


The subjective and objective violence of terrorism: analysing “British values” in newspaper coverage of the 2017 London Bridge attack

Dr. Jack Black

Critical Studies on Terrorism

Abstract

This article examines how Žižek’s analysis of “subjective” violence can be used to explore the ways in which media coverage of a terrorist attack is contoured and shaped by less noticeable forms of “objective” (symbolic and systemic) violence. Drawing upon newspaper coverage of the 2017 London Bridge attack, it is noted how examples of “subjective” violence were grounded in the externalisation of a clearly identifiable “other”, which symbolically framed the terrorists and the attack as tied to and representative of the UK Muslim community. Examples of “systematic” violence were most notable in the ideological edifice that underpinned this framing but also in the ways in which newspaper reports served to draw upon British values in the aftermath of the attack. This directed attention away from the contradictions within the UK, towards narratives that sought to “fix” these contradictions through eradicating the problem of “the other” and/or by violently protecting the British values “they” seek to undermine. As a consequence, newspaper coverage worked to uphold the illusion that “peace” could be achieved by eradicating terrorism through further forms of objective violence, including, internment without trial; the “ripping up” of human rights; and closer surveillance of Muslim communities. Indeed, it was this unacknowledged violence that worked to maintain British values in the press’ coverage.