Reflections on the Murder of Bijan Ebrahimi
There are many times that I have felt ashamed to be British. I think the invasion of Iraq was the first time; I was nine years old and had never experienced such overwhelming feelings of injustice. Since then, my love of ‘what makes Britain great’, like cream teas, the Lake District, the Harry Potter series, Stephan Hawking and marmite, has been mingled with the horror and disbelief at some of the things that go on in this ‘great’ country.
Today, I am disgusted and appalled at the murder of a disabled Iranian refugee. The murder of Bijan Ebrahimi took place four years ago, but I only learned of it today. I am shocked by this murder on several levels.
Firstly, I am appalled by this murder because it is so brutal and awful. The BBC reports that Ebrahimi was beaten, his head stamped on and then he was set alight. His body was discovered ‘ablaze’. As a Criminology graduate, I have studied some graphic and horrific murders; I never stop being appalled by murder of any description, but when it is so brutal, torturous, cold-blooded and slow, I feel particularly disgusted. These are actions that I cannot imagine carrying out on a dead dog – how could one human being do that to another? How has society created, or allowed the creation, of individuals capable of carrying out such crimes as this?
Secondly, I am appalled by the murder because it was preventable. Over the course of the seven years preceding his death, Ebrahimi reported to the police that he was the victim of death threats and racial abuse. This amounted to Ebrahimi making 73 calls to the police; these were not acted upon and the Independent Police Complaints Commissioner reported that police considered him to be a “liar, nuisance and an attention seeker”. This damning report comes almost two decades after the Macpherson Report, which highlighted the ‘institutional racism’ in the Metropolitan Police. The report was commissioned following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager who was murdered by a gang of white youths. Have the police learned nothing at all in the intervening years?
Thirdly, I am appalled by the murder because it has received so little media attention. During the course of my Criminology degree, I undertook a victimology module. This was one of the most interesting modules that I studied; it was literally the study of victims, and part of what we covered was the ‘ideal victim’ discourse. This states that victims who possess certain characteristics are most likely to receive media attention and public sympathy than other victims. So, a young, white girl is more likely to capture the public’s attention than a middle aged, black man. Every time I see this discourse being played out in the media sphere, or spoken from the lips of people who should know better (including myself, sometimes), I scream inside. It is just so wrong that we should care more about certain individuals than others. What I cannot comprehend is that Ebrahimi, a disabled refugee, was not seen as deserving of public sympathy. Why do we not care more for refugees? I could write dozens of blog posts about the way that this country treats refugees, from disgust that we are not opening our doors to more refugees, to utter sadness that the first victim of the Grenfell Tower disaster was named as a Syrian refugee.
In all, the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi just leaves me feeling terribly sad. It reminded me of the atrocious murder of Angela Wrightson in 2014 by two teenage girls, aged 13 and 14, the murder of Jamie Bulger, and the murder of Sophie Lancaster. These crimes shocked society because they were so extreme – a vulnerable woman murdered by two young girls, two young boys murdering a toddler, a young woman being murdered for being a goth. Both the murderers and the victims are members of the human race. What on earth has gone wrong?
During a science experiment at school, we took petri dishes of petroleum jelly, swabbed different surfaces in the classroom and then applied the swab to the jelly before incubating the dishes to see how the bacteria grew. Sometimes I think of society as that petri dish; what conditions exist to enable such crimes to take place? How have we created, both actively and passively, individuals capable of treating others with such contempt?
I wanted to post a little extract from an incredible speech in a Charlie Chaplin film. It’s something that I often turn to on days like today, when I want to tear my hair out with sheer desperation that society can be so broken. I read through the speech to seek an extract, but found that I simply couldn’t take one little segment and isolate it from the rest of the speech – it is so powerful that it really must be read as a whole – so I’ve instead made a mini-post dedicated to the speech.
I would like to try and finish this piece on a positive note, but I find that I just can’t. This murder is appalling and inexcusable and there is really nothing that I can say which lessens that. One of the worst things about it is the knowledge that this won’t be the last time that this brutality happens, that institutions who are meant to help the public end up failing them, and that the media decide which victims deserve centre stage and which don’t.
Perhaps one day, things will be different.