Sunday, October 08, 2006

Homicidal not suicidal

''Controversial posters featuring the aftermath of the London bombings are to appear next week as part of a charity's attempt to stop the number of men who commit suicide each year reaching four figures. The billboard-sized posters feature the image of the devastated No. 30 bus which exploded in Tavistock Square, killing 14 people including Hussain the bomber, and injuring over 110. It has the strapline ''Last year, 4 suicidal British men got our attention. Unfortunately, 973 others didn't. Help stop suicide. Text CALM to 80082''.
( Brand Republic 6/10/05)

The Evening Standard have just rung me up wanting a reaction. I explained, as usual, that I can't speak for all survivors, only for myself, and that I probably wasn't going to be able to muster quite the reaction of gibbering weeping outrage that they were looking for. But, okay, having seen it, I think that advertisement, whilst achieving one of its objectives of grabbing coverage and raising awareness, is a dud. For a charity, CALM ( Campaign Against Living Miserably) to use the 7/7 bombers' deaths in an anti-suicide billboard campaign is wholly counter-productive. As well as being in poor taste and likely to be upsetting to bereaved families and survivors of the London bombings, it is also misrepresentative, and it is likely to alienate and distress those whom the advertisements are aimed at.

It implies that the London bombers primary aim was suicide, rather than homicide. It infers that they were simply feeling suicidally depressed, like 973 other young men who committed suicide last year. It even seems to be saying that perhaps the 4 bombers could have been stopped from committing suicide, maybe if they had been made aware of the charity paying for the ads. But there is no official evidence to support the idea that the young men who killed 52 and injured almost 800 last summer were depressed. In fact, the Official Account of the July 7th bombings describes the young bombers caught on CCTV as ''hugging, seeming happy, even euphoric'' before they killed themselves.Khan's gang of four were nothing like the target audience for this campaign - young British men who are suffering from depression, and who are thinking about killing themselves.

Okay, the bombers were technically ''suicidal'', in that they were intending to commit suicide, but they were intending to commit suicide as a weapon, to turn themselves into human bombs in what their alleged ring-leader called a ''war''. For them, suicide seemed to be a means to an end - to a gruesome notoriety, an eternal heavenly reward, and a political act of retaliation for what they saw as the sufferings heaped upon the Ummah ( the global Muslim faithful) by the UK and US foreign policy.

What comes across from the Official Report is a picture of 4 highly radicalised young men in a small terrorist gang who were deeply immersed in extremist Islamist thinking and who saw ''martyrdom'' as ''evidence of a supreme religious commitment''. Unfortunately, their warped interpretation of their religion made their planned suicide seem heroic and praiseworthy to them - a way, Mohammed Sidique Khan said in his video statement released after his death ''to raise me amongst those I love like the prophets, the messengers, the martyrs and today's heroes like our beloved Sheikh Osama Bin Laden, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri...''

Perhaps early therapeutic intervention could have changed their course. Perhaps texting the charity or a chat with a mental health cousellor might have stopped the death-cult gang mentality taking hold in these four British men. It's rather hard to know, as we haven't had much experience of the effect of counselling on radicalised terrorist cells plotting destruction and mixing home-made explosives in rented flats.

There is a world of difference between a young man contemplating ending it all, and being a suicide bomber who sees vengeful suicide-homicide as ''martyrdom''. If I was young man who was depressed and feeling suicidal, I would not like to be compared to a suicide bomber. I would be very upset at the stigmatisation. It's bad enough being depressed without people thinking you're contemplating killing innocent commuters as well. Depression is not the same as terrorism, for heaven's sake.

Khan and his fellow-terrorists are not remembered as young men who tragically committed suicide. They are remembered for being mass-murderers. It is deeply offensive to make any comparison between the 973 young men who killed themselves last year, and who did not come to the charity's attention until it was too late, and the perpetrators of the worst act of terrorism on British soil.

And what's with the ''Last year, 4 suicidal British British men got our attention'' strapline? The bombings certainly got our attention. That seems to have been one of the bombers' political aims. But is suicide all about ''getting our attention''? That seems to me to demonstrate a woeful lack of comprehension as to what drives many people to commit suicide. Being unable to bear the pain of going on living is the most common reason left in suicide notes. Depression is an illness that can make life no longer bearable. I am shocked that an anti-suicide charity is linking suicide with ''attention-seeking'', even obliquely.

The more you look at this advert, the more of an incoherent mess the message is. It's a bad ad, and it's a damn shame, because the numbers of suicides in young men is a big, terrible issue, and it needs to be talked about. The charity's aims are praiseworthy. Anything that might stop young men killing themselves in anger and despair is a good thing. But O&M, the ad agency behind the campaign, and whoever signed this off, have made a serious error of judgement. The suicide of nearly a thousand young men each year is shocking enough. Why court this controversy with a picture and strapline that don't even make sense in the campaign's context?
Would they use Dunblane? Columbine? The Amish killings? No, but there is no difference at all. Mass -murder and the killer's suicide. In the three instances given though, the killer killed himself after he killed the innocent others. With 7/7 it was simulataneous. They are all homicide-suicides, and homicide is the crime, homicide is the point. Not suicide.

And this is not a targeted campaign - it is not running in magazines, say, that are read by 15-24 males, its target audience. It's running on billboards which means that it can be seen by absolutely anyone. Including thousands of men and women in London directly affected by the 7/7 attacks. Jacqui Putnam, survivor of the Edgware attack points out in today's Evening Standard 'Calm have given no thought to the hundreds of people - men and women - who are still trying to cope alone with the effects of 7/7, some of whom are also at risk of suicide'.

British advertising has a reputation for being some of the best in the world. What a pity that this ill-conceived, thoughtless campaign is going to grab headlines for all the wrong reasons. Attempts to save young lives should not resort to linking to mass murderers in their advertising campaigns. They shouldn't need to.

UPDATE: Evening Standard article
UPDATE 2: BBC news
UPDATE3: 'The New Marketing' article
UPDATE4: Daily Mail article


Anonymous michaeld said...

I took the message of the posters not to be "shouldn't we feel sorry for the 4 suicide bombers who are just like the 973 others who committed suicide" but rather "out of the 900 or so men who committed suicide isn't it bad that it was THOSE 4 that got all the attention". However whether the message is generally taken as such remains to be seen.

October 08, 2006 4:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate your sensitivity. I tried to kill myself when I was 14. I did not want attention. I wanted to end the pain and the lack of hope that was unendurable. I'm a completely different person now and I see that there is always hope. However, I have the perspective of a suicide-survivor.

I saw what I did as saving myself and comparing myself with the hijackers who plowed into the World Trade Centre or the Pentagon is incorrect and insulting. I was ill. I was not a mass murderer. I cannot see how that message would be helpful to people in the throes of suicidal depression or the loved ones and survivors of attacks.

October 09, 2006 2:16 pm  
Anonymous Deborah said...

Well said, Rachel.

October 09, 2006 4:54 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thank you for all the comments, especially Anonymous for your bravery in sharing your story. I have been talking to soem other survivors and peopel are very angry, so some of us are going to phone Ogilvie and Mather the advertising agency and ask them why they thought this was a good idea.

October 10, 2006 10:33 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My uncle commited suicide last year, just before 7/7. I can't believe a campaign like that could even try to compare both. My uncle didn't kill anyone but himself, which it was his decision, justified or not BUT HIS DECISION.
All people who died on the 7/7 never took the decision of commiting suicide, did they?, someone else took it for them. Therefore it's not suicide, just murder.
They should take all the posters out off anyone eyes, just out of respect, not only for the victims of 7/7 but for the potential young suicididal men which this ad is directed to. I was suicidal and see someone compares me with a killer I would definately would end up with my life. Let's be as insensitive as they have been... CALM is getting more young suicidals boys then, maybe to get more money...???

October 10, 2006 11:14 am  
Anonymous DC said...

Hi Rachel,

I'm probably teaching you to suck eggs as you work in the business but, for the benefit of others,
you can complain about this at the advertising standards authority web site.

If enough people complain then surely they will have to do something about it. Perhaps CALM will think twice when choosing which advertising agency to use nexy time if their posters get pulled.

October 10, 2006 4:48 pm  
Anonymous DC said...

Hi Rachel,

I'm probably teaching you to suck eggs as you work in the business but, for the benefit of others,
you can complain about this at the advertising standards authority web site.

If enough people complain then surely they will have to do something about it. Perhaps CALM will think twice when choosing which advertising agency to use nexy time if their posters get pulled.

October 10, 2006 4:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your first too paragraphs about this a wrongly perceived, I don't think the ad was suppsoed to be even mistook as an ad concerned about mental health of the bombers that day but about media coverage of issues, although your title 'homicide not suicide' gets the point of why this ad is so crass, as I said elsewhere 4 people committed suicide that day 55 were murdered, I think Jane Powell thinks that she'll cause some controversy get attention for the wesite phoneline etc and people will forget abouth ad job done,but I dont think that should be allowed happen anybody involved in this ad and the cheap use of 7/7 for publicity even for another tragic situation like suicide should be fired (the phoneline will survive without them). Tabloids and mass media are shit we know that so why pander to them, do you really need to get attention in that way anyway. Sexing issues up backfires eventually.

October 11, 2006 12:40 am  
Anonymous Dan Smith said...

The advert has worked even though it will never see the light of day, it has drawn attention to the issue and even if 90% of the reaction is about how much people dislike it, if you get %10 thinking about the horrible high rates of suicide we have in this country then its been a good thing in my opinion.

October 11, 2006 10:19 pm  
Anonymous Wade Rockett said...

Rachel, thanks for your comment on The New Marketing post. This is a very thoughtful and well-articulated analysis of the campaign. You're right - the more I think about the copy, the less sense it makes.

Hmm. CALM said that it wanted to get people talking about this issue by any means necessary. I guess they succeeded in that stated goal, but you'd think that they would also want people to view CALM itself in a positive light. They're presenting themselves as part of the solution, after all.

October 12, 2006 10:20 pm  
Blogger Don't Call Me Ishmael said...

I saw this (see below) and thought you might be interested in the thoughts on this matter of Syrian writer Ammar Abdulhamid...

October 14, 2006 12:02 am  
Blogger Angela Foster said...

There are so many people who have negative thoughts and are plagued by negative thinking. These negative thoughts create fear, suicidal thoughts, anger, and agitation and there is seemingly no apparent reason for these thoughts to occur. Everyone who has this habit must try to learn how to stop it and must try to bring on a more positive way of thinking.

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