The events unfolding in Kensington and Chelsea over the last 3 days have gripped the nation. The shocking images and video footage of Grenfell tower engulfed in an aggressive fire in the early hours of Wednesday morning, bear a striking resemblance with the images of the World Trade Centre on 9/11; the burning building in which innocent lives were trapped, the waving of towels and bed sheets as communications of desperate calls for rescue, the shock and horror of on-lookers, and of survivors being pulled from the thick blanket of smoke, the real-time decisions made by desperate residents to jump or face the fire, mothers choosing to drop their beautiful babies from such heights – the choice between death by fire or death by hitting the concrete ground.
Emerging from the flames and thick clouds of smoke, have been harrowing narratives of survivors and residents of the horrific fire. A key hallmark of these narratives is the manner in which they are punctuated by news anchors in a bid to contain the truth. Amongst these narratives are women explaining how victims were told to stay inside their flats, on-lookers prevented from saving victims at a point when the fire was not as developed, emergency services arriving hours after the fire had first started, and most of all, that the fire is the epitome of social cleansing amongst a broader ‘socioscape’ of gentrification, inequality, and poverty. The punctuation of such narratives coincided with Prime Minister Theresa May refusing to visit survivors due to concerns of ‘security’, which awakened the very recent memories of the Queen and other prominent figures visiting the survivors of the Manchester Bombing, and the London Terror Attack.
Terrorist attacks such as the ones aforementioned are quickly launched onto the global stage to enact the narrative of Islamic extremism and terrorism. The lives lost are accounted for, photographs of the victims are released, flowers are laid, family members are interviewed (and are not interrupted), minute silences are observed, poems are written, while the race to name the perpetrators is a top priority. In the case of Grenfell Tower however, there seems to be reservations in updating the death toll ‘score board’, no one will be ‘claiming’ the incident, photos of all 312 Conservative MPs who voted against the rules to make homes suitable for living, and of the members of Kensington and Chelsea Tenancy Management Organisation (KCTMO), will not be plastered onto the front page of newspapers. In other words, the lives lost in a terrorist attack carried out by Islamic extremists are worth more than those that are lost as a result of blatant failings by the State.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy is a terror of a different kind to the one we are so used to hearing about. It is an act of terror committed by people who do not fit the mainstream profiling of terrorists. It is an act of terror that has largely claimed the lives of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME), which deviates away from the image of the [white] ‘victim’. It is nonetheless an incident where innocent lives were terrorised by an otherwise preventable fire. Grenfell tower is proof that we have now entered a post-terrorism era in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion and fear of Muslims, which make it impossible to recognise acts of terror that have occurred and that do not involve extremist Muslims.
We need to recognise and address this post-terrorism era as an extension of the broader post-truth and post-Trump era that those before me have spoken out about. We cannot simply sit back and allow the terrorism framework to be applied in an incredibly narrow definition. Doing so would be to inflict further injustice on the lives lost in Grenfell Tower.
The Grenfell Tower fire is an act of corporate terrorism and it sends a strong message: that the BME, the working class, and people facing austerity, do not matter. While the billowing smoke of the hard architecture of Grenfell Tower will fade from the London sky-scape, it is the billowing smoke of the soft architecture – the struggles of those forced to the fringes of society – that will forever cling to the national sky-scape, as an ode to the ways in which we are terrorised everyday.