On Monday, May 22, an Islamist jihadist blew himself up at the Manchester Arena, at the end of an Ariana Grande concert. He killed 22 people, mostly young teenagers, one only eight years old. Most of the concert attendees were teenage girls, who the bomber may have seen as a legitimate target because of their femininity–the same way Islamists pour acid on women. Police and counter-terrorism operations are still ongoing as of this writing, while the terror threat has been raised to critical and there are now soldiers on Britain’s streets.
Given my dissertation focuses on ISIS-inspired Islamist terror attacks in Europe 2015-16 it now looks more relevant than ever, and not in a good way.
Theresa May’s speech after the attack was mostly good, but she didn’t name the ideology of Islamism. As a result, she risks falling into the same trap as Obama in not naming the ideology behind these attacks. She risks handing the narrative to those who will use it for their own malevolent ends by insisting that it’s the fault of all Muslims.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester (and a long-time critic of the present government’s counter-terrorism policy), said that the bomber was a terrorist, not a Muslim. As Haras Rafiq of the Quilliam counter-extremism think-tank said, who does Andy Burnham think he is to decide who is and isn’t a Muslim? It is yet another example of a politician not having the spine to face up to what is happening and where it comes from.
Burnham also belittled those on BBC Question Time who called out the ideology of Islamism and called for the Muslim community to do more by portraying them as unserious and not “real” Muslims.
Meanwhile, in response to Morrisey posting his thoughts about the attack and Western leaders’ failure to do anything substantive about it, the Guardian argued that those who blame the lack of recognition of Islamism as the driving force of these attacks on political correctness were using the same arguments as those on the far-right. Given Maajid Nawaz, also of Quilliam, made this exact point, he is now, according to this logic, supposedly considered far-right.
Adding a note of farce to the tragedy of Monday night, Channel 4 News interviewed members of the Manchester Muslim community, who were the usual self-appointed representatives of the Muslim community and obviously spoke for every member of that monolithic bloc. One of those interviewed was a burka-clad woman who had a top on which spelt out the word ‘Love’ with the different letters represented by guns, switchblades and a grenade. The video was then taken down when this was pointed out before returning. Channel 4 said it had “investigate[d]” and found, in its words:
We are now satisfied that the intention of that image is to subvert weaponry and is an anti-violence protest t-shirt.
The image was made famous in 2013 when the singer Jennifer Hudson was pictured wearing a very similar design, which spelled out the word “love” in guns and other weapons. She told fans “it’s time to turn all of that into this LOVE”.
“As a Muslim, this evil disgusts me; it cannot be the “new normal.”” – Haras Rafiq
Staying on the subject of the media response, which reflected the response of many politicians, many outlets and pundits took on the passive, fatalistic and naively lethargic attitude of the Independent newspaper, which ran the headline that said that the only way to respond to this attack was to keep going as normal. This spoke to a feeling among many in the cultural and political elites that there was nothing to be done, that nothing could be said about the atrocity beyond some platitudes about the undoubted bravery of emergency services and law enforcement while insisting that love would solve everything and that our diversity shouldn’t be allowed to be riven by divisions resulting from the attack.
While solidarity is important, the overwhelming feeling that showed through in all the utterances from the supine media and politicians was that there was nothing to be done, this is the new normal, and if we don’t cause offence by talking about substantive issues and keep as quiet as possible in the hope the terrorists will stop killing us, is frankly no longer good enough. As Haras Rafiq said, platitudes are no longer enough. We don’t want to live in a country where this is accepted as the new normal with little resistance.
What is needed now more than ever is an honest and open discussion about what drives this ideology, including the fact, the deeply uncomfortable fact that there are passages in the texts that specifically call for violent action against non-believers. This will not happen by cleaving to the same old platitudes, playing identity politics and slamming anyone who sticks their head up to speak uncomfortable truths.
This textual basis is what these people, even if they’re newly converted to the jihadist cause, base their actions on and use to give them “moral” legitimacy.
The counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam and other individuals are working to try to reform the religion of Islam so that these passages which undeniably exist are somehow negated. But the first step is to admit to the name of the ideology of Islamism, that it has something to do with Islam while not representative of all Muslims, and that the only way we will defeat this jihadist insurgency is by dealing with the philosophical and theological roots of the ideology.
We will not do this by passively accepting these attacks as the new normal and carrying on with our lives like everything is fine.
The only way we will win is by grasping the thorns of the painful discussions we need to have and accept that causing offence is not an acceptable reason for not having this discussion.
If we can’t even do this, then these attacks will continue, divisions will deepen and more people will die.
It’s as simple and as complicated as that.