The surfeit of names
His name was Khalid Masood at the time of his death, aged 52 and meeting his end having mowed down innocent people on Westminster Bridge and then running into the grounds of the Palace of Westminster where he stabbed an unarmed police officer to death before he was shot by an armed policeman and there he died, whilst receiving first aid from someone more human than he had ever been.
Khalid was born someone else, he was born Adrian Elms to a mother who was 17 at the time, when he was 4 years old she married Philip Ajao who became Khalid’s stepfather and the Adrian Elms became Adrian Russell Ajao. [Telegraph]
None of this would have been significant apart from the fact that a religious extremist had taken on a form of religion that in his mind gave him licence to commit senseless murder on the streets of London towards a goal that leaves one begging about the suicidal exploits of these mentally deranged people who think they get nearer to some deity by unmitigated evil, nothing could be further from the truth, if they and their handlers are visited by the truth.
The complex of identity
Janet Ajao, Khalid Masood’s mother lives a quiet and idyllic life in a Welsh-speaking village of Trelech, making bespoke cushions and until this terrorist attack perpetrated by her son upset the balance of her life with Philip Ajao, her husband being ill in hospital. They have been married since 1966 and have two boys who seem to be doing well. [Telegraph]
It was the Ajao surname that immersed me into this narrative because it is of Yoruba origin from South-West Nigeria and I am of Nigerian heritage.
Within the complex of identity and community, it is very easy as a minority to find issues to relate to and identify with. As a black man, I would celebrate the successes of other black people just because they are like me, and there is no link between us apart from that. It is a subconscious response schooled into our sense of identity and being that we should be ambassadorial and representative, we carry a mantle for the identity that we have.
Of subliminal identification
Breaking it down, you begin to find affinities with race, with nationality, with tribe, with clan and any element of diversity that differentiates you from the majority in the quest to retain some form of identity even when you find that you need to integrate with other cultures, communities and societies to be of relevance.
Therein lies the conundrum, we live in societies predicated on individuality and separateness, responsibility is rarely imputed on broader communities of the majority, but once the majority finds a collective by which you can be identified, it is easier for the majority to address the collective and individual and vice versa.
Stereotypes are the Shibboleths that we inadvertently lend ourselves to, that in celebrating the good amongst us, they are seen is individual but the criminals amongst us give licence to label all of us the same.
Of individual responsibility
Khalid Masood, Adrian Elms and Adrian Russell Ajao were one and the same person, in various stages of his life that was completely and essentially British. That he had a Nigeria stepfather did not make him Nigerian by any stretch of the imagination, he was not radicalised by a Nigerian construct, he charted his own path and must be held responsible for his own crimes.
Khalid Masood was a home-grown British-born terrorist, radicalised by anything from disaffection to persuasion within a frame of reference that is entirely British. His stint as an English teacher in Saudi Arabia was a projection of his Britishness, maybe not of British values, but that is debatable.
The association of his terrorist criminality with Philip Ajao is at best tenuous and even though there is some affinity with Philip as possibly of Nigerian heritage, he has spent a good deal of his lifetime in the United Kingdom, so it begs the question why we allow the mischief of depicting Khalid Masood as having anything to do with Nigeria.
On the crisis of identity
It is very likely that Khalid Masood’s conversion to Islam was related to a crisis of identity in a society that can be institutionally racist. Some disaffection about who and what he represents in the British society might have given impetus to his decision to murder people in broad daylight, that it was done in the name of religion is completely beside the point, a criminal is a criminal and a terrorist is just that, a terrorist.
However, within the forming of our core identity which is heightened in a different cultural setting and host society, as we celebrate successes we find ourselves conflicted and afflicted by the failings of some amongst us, we coalesce in trying to understand what has gone wrong in our communities rather than with the individual, because in our home cultures, we are brought up within a village construct of family, extended relations and society at large. To be individual is to go rogue.
We are not Khalid Masood
Yet, we need that essential individuality linked with purpose to thrive in societies outside our native ones, in that, we must conserve identity more to the individual and resist the temptation to identify easily with groups such that when the majority is looking for someone to blame, we get lumped together, blameless as we are.
Our identity is significant and must be constantly refreshed with wholesome community activity, but we must cultivate how we identify before we are consumed in a guilt complex brought on by no other association that the remotest tenuous links.
No, we are not Khalid Masood, he alone must answer for his crimes, not the black community, not the Muslim community, not Nigerians, not the Yoruba, not his stepfather, not his mother, not his half-brothers, not his wife, nor his children, except where they as named individuals have been co-conspirators or accomplices to his crimes.