May 23, 2013
Woolwich: All That Confusion Over Michael Adebolajo's Soldier Cool
“I have never seen anything like this before, or even heard of it happening before. For two suspects to carry out a brutal attack like this then stand around in plain sight waiting for the police is crazy.”
— Former Detective Chief Inspector Peter Kirkham (Guardian)
Are they or aren’t they terrorists? Were they or weren’t they seeking publicity? Instead of arguing “no” and “no,” I’ll just say that both questions confuse and obscure how unique the event in Woolwich was in the annals of political violence and the lens. (Whether it also signals a new paradigm is impossible to know.)
This attack in Woolwich, though, seemed to break the rules on four scores. One involved time. One, identifiability. Another, evacuation strategy. And still another, “sociability,” if you can believe that.
The episode seemed to demonstrate the absence of haste. When do you remember an act of violence in which the perpetrator is not pushing on the clock to either escape or to somehow meet the 40 virgins? The killer on video seemed to also have little instinct for personal attention or self-aggrandizement as much as his encounter with the camera had the quality of an impromptu man-on-the-street interview. And then, I know many will feel I’m out of my mind to ascribe sociability to a guy who just hacked another man to death. What was so extremely odd, outside the extreme prejudice toward the soldier, is how Mr. Adebolajo did not present as particularly antagonistic at all. This was evidenced in speaking to this citizen with the camera, and in his chat with the citizen who approached him after getting off the bus. (The media is attributed the uniqueness of the encounter to Ms. Loyau-Kennett’s temperament, but my sense is that it wasn’t just her.)
His sidewalk comments on video and the way this attacker approached the situation would be easy to write off if he was either a dyed-in-the-wool sociopath or simply delusional. All that psychological profiling goes out the window, however, seeing Mr. Adebolajo as himself a soldier.
What’s so novel and unique about the footage is how this man looked and sounded so rational, even deferential and slightly apologetic after butchering the British soldier. Could it be that we’re entering a post-9/11 or 7/7 era of jihad/war on Muslim extremism in which both sides have transitioned from shock-and-awe to a more targeted, methodical and pragmatic attitude? Is a smart guy like Mr. Adebolajo simply exhibiting the cool and detached, but not quite robotic lethality of the workaday drone operator?