Nothing happens in isolation. Everything happens in a context. Difficult as it may be – since what we know about it changes day by day – an analysis of the Manchester suicide bombing has to be carried out within the various aspects of the situation that surrounded it.
Nothing can be more painful than the loss of life of young and old, the horror, the disbelief that someone can actually carry out such a heinous act. The response from services, the police, the paramedics, the hospitals and the people, the blood donors queuing to do something useful, the taxi drivers moving people for free, those offering shelter and accommodation, the vigils, the sense that Manchester came together to deal with the horror with love, that’s the first image, the first context. Here is hope.
Context 2, the Politics
After a long campaign by the media to extol the qualities of right wing PM Theresa May and destroy the image of the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, finally the Tory lead in opinion polls for the June 8th election had started to shrink following a forced U-turn on the cap on care for the elderly and other manifesto gaffes. This, coupled with the Labour manifesto hailed as the most interesting set of proposals by Corbyn’s supporters and some detractors had managed to begin to close the gap between the parties.
After the Manchester bomb which killed 22 and left more than a hundred injured, political parties agreed to stop campaigning for the election. But of course Mrs May continued to appear widely in the news looking tough on the terrorists, chairing important meetings with the police, putting the army in the streets to make people feel more ‘secure’ and admonishing Trump for his security service leaking information shared by the British about details of the bomber and the possible network that supported him. This is free political advertising and whether intended or not the terrorists have given it as a present to the Conservatives.
Context 3. Austerity
An emerging detail is that when she was Home Secretary, May cut the police force by 19,000 in spite of being told they would not be able to keep the country safe. This would have included monitoring the people with possible terrorist links, exactly as in this case. The bomber had been in the books of the police after members of his own community communicated his extreme views. But surveillance is labour intensive and needs more manpower. According to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published in March this year: “Government austerity blamed in the report, which shows stretched forces downgrading calls and leaving suspects at large… “potentially perilous state”…due to budget cuts in excess of 20%.” “Ch Supt Gavin Thomas, the president of the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales, said: The public will be worried by this report and I share their concerns. There are now 34,000 fewer staff working in policing than there were in 2010, including 19,000 fewer police officers. The amount of money available for policing has also reduced over time.” The Guardian
Furthermore, the cuts to education and services as well as community projects and youth clubs have affected more those areas of low income where ethnic minorities tend to reside. And racism exacerbated by the anti-immigration Brexit campaign has also affected the sense of integration for those minorities. Disaffection can go in any direction. The guy who killed Jo Cox MP was an extreme right wing fascist radicalised by fascist websites. The Manchester bomber was a disaffected youngster, ripe for radicalisation. The only way to prevent disaffection is to have a fair society that looks after everybody’s needs. Economic inequalities and discrimination are forms of violence. And violence begets more violence.
Context 4, the Foreign Policy
How do you radicalise people against eating meat? You show them animals suffering unspeakable horrors whilst being reared for food. How do you radicalise people against animal testing? You show them unspeakable horrors of animals being vivisected, suffering pain and distress. How do you radicalise people against the West? You show them unspeakable horrors like children blown to pieces or struggling to breathe after a chemical weapons attack and people killed by drones, armies, becoming “collateral damage” during efforts to carry out regime change with spurious justifications: non-existing weapons of mass destruction, the “protection of human rights”, of civilians, of “democracy”.
Then anybody can ideologise the images or put them into a religious format but without the human quality of feeling in one’s own body the pain of others that we see suffering, it is less likely. So in a context of love and solidarity these images make you run to give blood and help the injured. In a context of hatred and revenge they produce suicide bombers and wars. Jeremy Corbyn has stated that “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home.” “That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and held to account for their actions. But an informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people that fights rather than fuels terrorism.” For this he is being criticised, even if Boris Johnson himself, our faux-pas-prone Foreign Secretary agrees with him. See Channel 4 News in which journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy reads out the relevant quote.
There is little doubt that the creation of war-induced chaos in Iraq, Libya and Syria has removed the structures that kept extremism at bay, even if those structures were less than ideal.
Supporters of Middle East wars contend that Islamic fundamentalism is previous to recent interventions but we must remember that in 1953 the Iranian coup d’état, known in Iran as the 28 Mordad coup was the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in favour of strengthening the monarchical rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi … orchestrated by the United Kingdom and the United States to prevent the nationalisation of the Oil industry. Wikipedia
Context 5, Generations
This has been an attack on youngsters by a youngster. Young people tend to be more likely to show solidarity to immigrants, to be against wars, to be idealistic. Ariana Grande, the singer in the Manchester bombing whose music is popular with children and teenagers had a history of activism on social issues, in particular against LGBT+ discrimination. This assault may change some young people’s views. Perhaps the bomber was chosen precisely because being young he would blend better and raise less suspicions. Whatever the intentions, the ‘clash of civilisations’ has moved down one generation.
Context 6, Dehumanisation and Spiritual Malaise
Life without a sense of purpose is meaningless and depends exclusively on getting the next provisional meaning, the latest phone, a house, a car, a shirt. The endorphins rush from our material defences against despair is short lived and there we are, seeking the next one, whilst comparing ourselves and competing with others. This is the existential culture created by the ideology of neoliberalism. Shrink the state, (the only thing that can give responses to terrorism or natural disasters! The private sector, so appreciated by this brand of capitalism, is completely useless in such situations) and compete. Objectify others, use them, abuse them, it’s all OK. Solidarity and compassion are for the weak. This dehumanisation and living through material pursuits breaks the link with our own spiritual being, whether we are religious or not, that dwells in the depths of every human being’s consciousness, a sacred flame which alone can give a permanent meaning and a sense of communion with everybody else. When it’s lost and uncompensated by the hypnosis of retail therapy many search for it in extreme forms of religion that offer the Ecstasy effect: belonging and being at ease with others. Islam is not the only one but thanks to the need of NATO to find an enemy to justify its existence after the fall of the Soviet Union, it is now the most visible.
There is a new spirituality being born and growing, promoting peace and nonviolence, solidarity, non-discrimination, equal rights and equal opportunities for all and compassion. But it does not get column inches; violence is more useful for the survival of this violent system, so it gets all the headlines.
If we want to give a response to the Manchester bombing that halts instead of perpetuates the vicious circle of violence let us breathe, share, vote and build active nonviolence wherever we are. This is not about being right or left, it’s about being human.