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The search for Dallas shooter's motive

OUTRAGE: Baton Rouge police officers tussle with Alton Sterling on the ground before he was fatally shot. This shooting sparked outrage

FIGURES FROM America reveal that young black men were killed by police at five times the rate of white men of the same age in 2015. In 97% of police shootings, the officers involved were not charged with a crime.

On July 6, Alton Sterling was arrested, pinned down and then shot several times at point blank range by police officers in Louisiana. Before Americans and the rest of the world had fully comprehended this killing, the next day another man, Philando Castile, was also shot dead by police while his partner and her four-year-old daughter were in the car with him in Minnesota.

The killing of Alton Sterling and Castile were both recorded and posted online and stunned black communities. Black lives were once again shown not to matter. After the shock comes grief, then protests and vigils.

But a minority react violently. These people may have untreated mental health issues or a history of violence, but the trigger for their revenge is the perception that such a wrong can only be righted with violence. To say the trigger is real, the anger justified and the concerns valid, does not however negate the fact that the violence is criminal.

But instead of focussing on these very real grievances, existing power structures shift the focus to ideology.

Similarly, since the initiation of the War on Terror, the neo-conservative hawks have ensured that genuine concerns which cause a few to perpetrate crimes, have been censored out of the analysis of the causes of terrorism. This is to our detriment.


Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy has disproportionately if not wholly focussed on ideology as the single defining factor in radicalisation. Despite being academically baseless, with hundreds of professors and experts rejecting such models, this analysis has further entrenched itself with Prevent, and other Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programmes which have infected policy circles around the world through state-validating “counter-extremism think-tanks” and international institutions likes the UN.

Thus, the implementation of Prevent has seen it target Islamic beliefs which are at variance with the secular liberal status quo, engaging in halting democratic activities like protests, and censuring of pro-Palestinian activism – all under the rubric of “preventing extremism”.

The discourse of extremism has created a climate where not even opposition party leaders are spared. Jeremy Corbyn has been called a terrorist-sympathiser for opposing Syria air strikes by former Prime Minister David Cameron. The implicit assumptions with ideology-focussed analyses of radicalisation posit that perpetrators of political violence are those who are driven by an ideology, as opposed to genuine grievances. This enables governments to profile based upon thoughts and ideas.

The persecution of black people in America and the response from the establishment media to violence borne in response to this persecution is a prime example.

It was within this pressured, volatile context that Micah Xavier Johnson shot five police officers at a Dallas Black Lives Matter rally. Johnson was clearly disturbed by the police brutality against black people.

Within days of the shooting, however, reports began to percolate with a fixation on his ideology. Thus the Washington Post noted that Johnson made his primary picture on Facebook an image of himself raising a single fist in the air, “a symbol associated with the Black Power movement of the 1960s”.

CNN went further, drawing parallels with “Islamist terror”, and highlighted, “those who study the online radicalisation of terrorists are seeing a similar pattern in the story of Johnson” before adding a quote from an “extremism expert” linking ideology. By the time it reached the right-wing British media, focus was wholly on ideology, with parallels being drawn with “Islamist” terror attacks.

Indeed, if an ideology was the dominating motivation, these papers did not seek to question whether Johnson’s violence could have been borne of his time in Afghanistan in a war driven by neo-conservative ideologues who pursue violence to spread purported Western values of freedom and democracy.

Perhaps his actions were a re-enactment of Western foreign policy. The headline “Johnson radicalised by United States army”, however, is not as comforting to the white power structure that such papers seek to placate.


The political exploitation through ideology-focussed assessments of radicalisation of people of colour is reminiscent of European colonial efforts to subjugate indigenous populations through value-centric (“uncivilised”) justifications. Indeed as decolonisation movements begin to unravel European cultural superiority, the efforts to deconstruct and rollback CVE in a similar fashion must also be instituted in this light, and included in this effort.

Each time a person of colour or member of a minority group responds with violence to a persistent oppression or structurally imposed violence, any sincere callers for change, be they politicians or members of civil society need to address the root of such crimes if we are to stop the cycles of violence.

Ibrahim Mohamoud is the Communications Officer at CAGE, an independent advocacy organisation working to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror

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