The Manchester attack: in the aftermath

Daily: Pakistan Today
Date: 31.05.17

On May 22, Salman Abedi, a 22-year old British-Libyan teenager, launched a suicide
bombing attack – by using an improvised explosive device full of shrapnel – at the
Manchester Arena, and consequently killed 22 and injured more than 60 people, who were
also mostly teenagers, after the pop star Ariana Grande concluded the concert. A teenager
suicide bomber killing other teenagers is a new insidious phenomenon. Reportedly, the
Daesh (or the Islamic State) claimed responsibility for the heinous attack.

The major contributing factor to threat to peace in the United Kingdom (UK) is the
introversion of Muslim communities of all nationalities naturalised in the UK. Manchester
caters for a substantial number of British-Pakistanis who mostly got settled there as a
working class when Manchester was UK’s textile hub. Though British-Pakistani taxi drivers
might have offered free rides to the injured to hospitals and though British-Pakistani
doctors might have treated the wounded at hospitals, the incident has the potential for
driving a wedge of wariness at the community level, between the local community and any
naturalised Muslim community. Though a refuge is taken by comparing the bombing
incident with that done by the Irish in the past, there are signs indicating that British are fast
losing the sense of differentiating between Muslims of one nationality and the other; they
cluster all into one.

On September 11, 2001, this writer conducted short informal interviews of dozens of
Muslims of various nationalities (such as Egyptian, Libyans, Sudanese, Pakistanis,
Bangladeshis) residing in London on their reaction to the fall of the twin towers. Most
interviewees said that the hijacker-cum-terrorists served the cause of Palestine because
the US was prejudicially supporting Israel against Palestinians. This was the point where the
interviewees also expressed elation and this was the same mirth detested publicly by US
President Donald Trump during his election campaign in 2016. Secondly, most interviewees
said that a new intifada (at a bigger level) was in the making. On the question, how they
knew that the fall of the twin towers was to express hatred against the US foreign policy in
the Middle East (ME), the interviewees replied that it was just their perception (without any
proof). If the conclusion of this qualitative study is extrapolated, it means that a kind of
simmering odium was extant amongst Muslims against the US foreign policy towards the ME
and that was why they robotically and unanimously concluded that the 9/11 attack served
the Palestinian cause.

Parenthetically, this raft of opinion was gathered before Osama bin Laden started
commenting on the 9/11 incident and started selling the vitality of his al-Qaeda to Muslims
at large. The Palestine cause remained the idea on which al-Qaeda fed and swelled its
ranks. Unfortunately, on July 7, 2005, the worst fear became true when, adhering to the al-
Qaeda ideology, some British-Pakistanis resorted to London bombings – four separate
suicide bombing incidents wherein British born Pakistanis used backpacks to detonate
bombs in the public transport system – and devoured the lives of 56 and injuring about 700
people.

On June 30, 2007, when two Muslim men (one Iraqi and one Indian) tried to explode a Jeep
Cherokee by dashing it into the main entrance of Glasgow International Airport, a sense of
horror swept across the Pakistani community settled in Scotland as Scottish-Pakistanis.
Immediately after the failed attack, this writer again conducted short informal interviews of
some Scottish-Pakistanis and the Scots and found out that though both were mentally
ready for such a horrific incident, the Scots were of the opinion that the attack was in
retaliation to UK’s policy of siding with the US in invading Iraq in 2003. Secondly, the Scots
were of the opinion that if Scotland wanted to experience peace, it had to come out of the
bounds of the UK, as London had stopped listening to Edinburg. This kind of thinking
encouraged the right wing Scottish to hold a referendum in September 2014 for the
independence of Scotland from the UK. Though the referendum failed by a narrow margin,
the spirit to hold another referendum is still alive. The same spirit empowers the Scottish
National Party of Nicola Sturgeon to oppose Brexit. Retrospectively, there would have been
severe Scottish backlash against all kinds of Muslim communities including Scottish-
Pakistanis, if the two men had succeeded in exploding their jeep. Not the munificence of the
Scots but the failure of the suicide attack permitted a smooth working relation to persist
between Scottish-Pakistanis and the Scots.

Though al-Qaeda tried to serve the Palestine cause, the headquarters of al-Qaeda
remained situated in Afghanistan and not on any Arab land. It was October 2004 when Abu
Musab al-Zarqawi founded al-Qaeda in Iraq (in the wake of 2003 invasion of Iraq); however,
it was April 2013 when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi founded the Daesh in Iraq (in the wake of the
Arab Spring of late 2010).

Compared to al-Qaeda, the strength of the Daesh lies in two things. First, its headquarters
is on the Arab land, be it Iraq or Syria. Second, it is trying to cash in on the Caliphate cause
as an alternative political system to democracy on the Arab land. In this way, the Daesh has
projected itself more Arabic. One of the reasons for the quick swelling of the ranks of the
Daesh is that it offers sufficient space to the Arab youth, which has got detached from their
countries in the wake of the Arab Spring. The catch phrase is that the US or the West wants
to infuse a western-styled political system (i.e. democracy) in the ME. On the one hand,
besides the drone strikes in the tribal area, the elimination of bin Laden in the Abbottabad
raid conducted by US Navy Seals in May 2011 dented the existence of al-Qaeda in
Pakistan and Afghanistan while, on the other hand, the formation of the Daesh in Iraq
substituted for the existence of al-Qaeda on the Arab land. The commonality of the modus
operandi of launching spectacular attacks on semi-protected or soft targets has perhaps
allowed the quick shift of proponents from al-Qaeda to the Daesh, while preserving the
dream of constructing a bigger intifada.

Compared to the bombs used by British-Pakistanis in London bombing in 2005 and by two
men in Glasgow in 2007, this time the exploding device is found not crude but sophisticated
to be successful in achieving its objective. This means that more such attacks may be in the
offing and more lives will be at risk. Secondly, this time the family members of the suicide
attacker, Abedi, are found to have known of his intentions, but neither did they try to stop
Abedi from exploding the bomb nor they informed the local police on the activities or
intentions of Abedi. This not only means that intra-community penetration of local
intelligence department is ineffectual but this also means that intra-community talk is veiled
deviously. Both these portentous factors are bound to ratchet up the level of mistrust
between the locals and the Muslim communities including British-Pakistanis, despite all
claims of multiculturalism in the UK.

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