The Right Kind of Violence: Race, Belonging, and Militarism in the First World War Centenary

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 16:15
Location: Hörsaal 31 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Meghan TINSLEY, Boston University, USA
In the summer of 2014, the First World War centenary presented an opportunity to reassess Britain’s national memory of a global, colonial war. Indeed, the “Commonwealth contribution” to the War received unprecedented attention in national commemorations. Further, a wave of politicians and popular media called for a re-nationalization of the War, foregrounding and valorizing Britain’s role in the conflict. Yet the tone of the commemorations belied a context of growing uncertainty about the meaning of “British values” and a new wave of suspicion surrounding the loyalties of British Muslims. Taking this paradox as its starting point, this paper examines representations of colonial subjects in four key commemorations. A content analysis reveals that these events provided a means of managing contemporary notions of belonging. Specifically, I find that in the commemorations, colonial subjects engaged in “good violence” to support the British nation without challenging the substance of that nation. By extension, military service was represented as a contemporary form of “good violence” to facilitate the integration of racial and religious minorities into the mainstream. “Good violence” was juxtaposed, often explicitly, with the “bad violence” of Islamic State that dominated the news cycle as the commemorations unfolded. Implicit in this contrast were the omnipresence of violence in British nationhood; the veneration of violence as a response to violence; and the belief that Muslims, in particular, were prone to violence.