Ramnik Shah

Ramnik Shah, born in Kenya, practiced law in Nairobi from 1964 to ’74 and then for the next 30 years in England, where since retirement he has been engaged in academic research and writing on migration and diaspora related subjects and general literature. His first book ‘Empire’s Child’ has just been published.

Website: ramnikshah.blogspot.com

‘I will hunt you down ... I will find you ... and I will kill you’ - we are all familiar with muscular American men saying this in countless movies and other entertainment tropes. A typical scenario involves a hot-blooded white guy, in the prime of his life, who has been mugged, assaulted, beaten or otherwise physically harmed, or someone close to him – a wife, daughter, niece, friend – is raped, killed or seriously injured. This, then, is how he reacts, filled with an uncontrollable urge to inflict the bloodiest punishment on the perpetrator of the crime. But whoever that person may be, such anger is directed at that particular individual, not just anybody at random (the distinction is important, as we shall see), though sometimes it may spill over to others – say the police if they have failed to protect or come to the aid of the victim. All this is acted out on the screen in front of us.  Let`s call it the Charles Bronson syndrome!

And then there are real life examples of a recurring like phenomenon, of some disgruntled employee, student or army veteran, going on a mass shooting spree and mowing down people at their work places, on college or school campuses or even in or outside places of worship?  Such incidents are so common and frequent that we are no longer shocked by them. In the eyes of the rest of the world, this kind of violence seems embedded in American culture.  

So it came as no surprise when earlier this year the actor Liam Neeson made his public confession of having walked up and down some neighbourhood areas for a week or two, armed with a cosh, looking for any `black bastard` to kill in revenge for raping a friend of his.  In all fairness, he actually volunteered this information about an episode that had happened some 40 years previously, adding that he was ashamed to admit that, though it is important to remember that he was doing so in the context of an interview with a journalist from the British newspaper The Independent while promoting his (latest) film, appropriately titled ‘Cold Pursuit’ (where the Neeson character goes on an eponymous chase that ends up in a deathly ambush.) But then he has long cinematic form in playing other similar strong-man roles, such as in the movie Taken where his character threatens the kidnapper of his daughter with the chilling words ‘I will find you, and I will kill you’.  As it happened, he jokingly quoted the first part of it (‘I will find you’) to his Independent interviewer, while telling her to be really careful if she was going to use that story!

Again, to be fair, in that and his other follow up media interviews, he explained away these remarks as an expression of atonement, referencing his Catholic background and upbringing in Northern Ireland during ‘the troubles’. In that respect, he was not a home-grown American, but rather an immigrant who nevertheless had quickly morphed into one of the conventional white macho variety - an epitome of the American psycho!  His moral guilt lay in targeting any ‘black bastard’ to avenge his friend’s rape, not the culprit who had done the deed.  It was he, Neeson, who had brought colour into the equation, by putting a leading question to his friend about it.  This was symptomatic of white men`s fear and loathing of the proverbial ‘black brute’, pouncing on their women with sexual desire and prowess, rooted in the country`s past of conquest and slavery.   

Charles Bronson was of course the Hollywood star of the 1974 blockbuster ‘Death Wish’ in which he played a respectable architect turned a crime-fighting vigilante after his wife is murdered and daughter raped.  It spawned four sequels over the next two decades, all with him in the leading role, and created a whole new genre of movies where citizen law enforcers seeking justice for wrongs done to them or their families took matters into their own hands.  Michael Douglas - of such movies as ‘Basic Instinct’, ‘Fatal Attraction’, ‘The War of the Roses’ and ‘Falling Down’ - is another acting example of the same broad species of a loner at loggerheads with society. 

But vigilante justice, American style, is not fundamentally different from a predisposition to ‘kill the blacks’ at every available opportunity, rightly or wrongly - mostly the latter.  We know only too well about the many instances of this tendency at work.  A google search of ‘police killings of black men in the US and what happened to the officers’ will produce a rich array of them during the years 2014-16 alone, in several states across the country, including that of the unarmed Walter Scott, shot five times in the back in 2015 in North Charleston, SC, and of Michael Brown Jr, also unarmed and shot six times, in 2014 in Ferguson, MO, whose death caused such revulsion and protests that it propelled Black Lives Matter into a national movement.  In the latest much publicised case, in September 2018, a perfectly innocent black man was shot dead in his own apartment by a white policewoman, who lived in the same building, in quite bizarre circumstances: she had apparently entered his apartment believing it was hers and that he was robbing it.  Be that as it may, she has been indicted for murder (which is rare in such cases) and is on bail awaiting trial, which may not take place for at least a year.  Such killings have always been a feature of American history and continue unabated year on year. 

Contrast the dire warning-loaded ‘I will find you and I will kill you’ of American speech, with what Maajid Nawaz, an anti-radicalisation British radio presenter and media pundit, had to say when he was violently assaulted in a racially motivated attack outside a central London theatre one evening in February.  He suffered a facial injury and posted pictures of how he looked afterwards.  His assailant fled the scene before the police arrived. What he then said was: ‘My forehead will probably be scarred for life. But we will find you, you racist coward, and you will face British justice.’!   It is rare for anyone in Britain to utter death threats in such situations, though these are now being routinely issued by rabid extremists in the highly charged current political climate amidst widespread popular discontent with the ruling establishment.  Every time some high profile figure is reported saying something controversial in the news, they attract umpteen trolls promising fatal consequences for their views – but that is another story.

What all this amounts to is that minorities everywhere are always vulnerable as regards personal safety and security.  When the going gets tough for the majority anywhere for any reason, they will turn on those who are different from them in terms of visibility or other readily identifiable trait or because of their position in the socio-politico-economic order. They are seen as ‘the other’, whether individually or collectively, and become a ready target for pent-up emotions. This is and has been true of all nations and societies across the globe.  Just now we, in the world at large, are going through a most divisive and destructive phase in human and international relations at all levels, and it is not inconceivable that such latent feelings of prejudice and hatred will be let loose on a massive scale somewhere or other.  I know this is painting too gloomy a picture for what may happen; I just hope I am wrong.    

Postscript to Bleak Times

In my last piece, in discussing feminist concerns about the invasion of female only spaces by transgender women (i.e. those who claim to be female, whether or not they still possess male genitalia or have gone through a physical transition process), I was amiss in not including a reference to the all-important sports arena, because that is the subject of much spirited agitation among non-transgender women. They argue, and quite rightly, that trans women who may be biologically male but insist on participating in exclusive women’s sport and athletic competitions have an inbuilt advantage over them in terms of speed and strength.  That hardly needs any explaining. 

Ramnik Shah


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