Following the awful knife attack at Leytonstone on Sunday, the hashtag #YouAintNoMuslimBruv has been trending on social media. It has been so widely shared that it was discussed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme and even the Prime Minister repeated it during his speech.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
To recap, the phrase was shouted by a passer-by at Muhyadin Mire, who attacked a fellow passenger on the London Underground system, allegedly shouting “this is for Syria”. Mire has been charged with attempted murder.
Some news reports said that the hashtag was ‘unlikely’ but actually I don’t think that’s true. There was something about the phrase that is eminently shareable. It has a haiku-like perfection that is a perfect fit for our troubled times.
Moreover, I think the reason it was shared so widely is because everyone recognises that perfection.
Why it’s perfect
Let’s drill down into the many reasons why the phrase is so good:
- It makes the political point that these attacks are not endorsed by other Muslims.
- It declares such violence un-Islamic, an important theological point
- The statement and the “bruv” marks out the speaker as a Muslim himself. He is condemning the attack on behalf of the ‘community’, something that mainstream commentators constantly (but absurdly) demand of other Muslims.
- The reprimand happens in the moment. It is an insta-condemnation.
- The voice, the double-negative and the “bruv” are urban London English. He speaks not just for his co-religionists, but for the city too.
- It is a form of mockery. A tone of distain. The attacker is immediately labelled as pathetic. A figure of fun. Un-heroic.
- Related: It’s a little bit funny, isn’t it? (The phrase I mean, not the stabbing, obviously). It has a quality that in other circumstances we would call ‘banter’.
- 19 characters (or 23 if you include the spaces). So, shareable.
This one short sentence does many things. It is an appropriate condemnation of the crime. It discourages to further acts of violence. It counters the tired narrative that Islam itself is the threat and that Muslims are dangerous. It reinforces the idea of multicultural London.
Marketing agencies are paid millions to come up with multi-purpose phrases like this, and millions more to astroturf their spread on social media. Yet this dude extemporised in the moment. It is a joy to behold.
That said, his quick wittedness is not the most interesting aspect. I am much more interested in the collective savviness of everyone else. Without thinking, thousands of people subconsciously recognised the message as something to be shared, and it was read by hundreds of thousands, if not millions more. The media (whose business it is to look for and publish these kinds of messages) followed suit. The Prime Minister—a professional PR man himself, remember—was also quick to appropriate it.
This is a communal political skill that, in the past few years, we have honed to perfection. Social media is often spoken of as a hornet’s nest, but the emergence of short yet politically powerful responses is actually a sophisticated manifestation of a hive mind at work. Many people like to claim that technology is actually changing the way our brains work, but few of them give concrete examples. I think the way people subconsciously co-operate on social media, to send a meaningful political messages, is one such example.
We can do this because of the new technologies, and because we have spent the past decade talking to each other at a far more furious pace and in a very different way to which we have done previously. We have rehearsed and iterated the arguments.
I am not such an idealist that I think that our new social media skills are enough to totally see off the divisions in our society. The media continues to run on a business model dependent on fear-mongering. Demagogues will play into the hands of the terrorists by demonising minorities. Well meaning politicians will vote to bombing for the sake of bombing, because something must be done. And of course, the Dæsh pretenders are still squatting on bits of Syria and Iraq, causing death and havoc. None of this can be eradicated by an extra re-tweet.
Nevertheless, I think our more peaceful messages, taken in aggregate, depress the negativity caused by the terrorists, the tabloids and the Trumps. If we did not do this, the world would be even worse than it is.
When you see someone has posted something positive on social media. Hit that re-tweet button. Like it on Facebook. It might not feel like much, but you’re part of something larger, a force for good.
Its gone international.