The 22nd May Manchester Arena bombing has etched a particularly traumatic experience into the people of Britain. The attack in Manchester has claimed the lives of young teenagers, including an eight-year old. My sympathies go out to the victims of this atrocity.
I delayed writing on this topic for two reasons; the first being in respect of the lives lost; the second because so little had been established concerning the motive. With the Westminster attack, if we recall, there was a significant internalisation of blame by the Muslim minority without establishment of key facts – a dynamic that was fully exploited by neocons. Indeed, once the motive was established, it pointed to an uncomfortable motive, which is increasingly being marginalised in the discourses that seek to analyse the “causes” of terrorism: Western violence.
However, the fact remains that no sooner had the sun rose over a perturbed Britain, politicians, connected hacks and counter-extremism organisations began releasing PREVENT propaganda. This was coupled with limited information being released on why such an attack had even taken place, reinforcing a trend that sees security services and intelligence agencies protected from public scrutiny. Amber Rudd, who has formerly sat on the Political Council of the hate-financed, neoconservative Henry Jackson Society for years, claimed that the suspect was “known up to a point”. Thanks to poor intelligence management, US sources named the suspected attacker as Salman Abedi, a British-born man of Libyan descent. At the time of writing, there is some controversy around the suspect. The suspect’s father has claimed that his son was not responsible for the attack and said that “he was always against those attacks, saying there’s no religious justification for them” and that “we don’t believe in killing innocents”. Soon after, the father was “whisked away” by “masked men” during a TV interview whom were later confirmed to be counter terrorism officers. There are of course questions to be raised as to why the father was removed a media appearance so aggressively. Subsequent reports now allege that the father was worried about his son’s views and tendencies so much so that he had confiscated his passport.
There is a key point around the background of the father. He was part of the rebel militia group called the Libyan Islamic fighting group (LIFG) that fought to overturn the Gaddafi regime in 2011. This was a time when the British government under David Cameron had engaged in “regime-change”, thus giving approval for “young men” from Manchester to travel to Libya. Was the suspect in the Manchester attack one of them? And is this why the security services knew about him? Additionally, he was flagged by the local Muslim community a number of times.
The establishment has instead focussed on shifting attention and blame from failures by state security apparatus to discussions on PREVENT, ideology and therefore the community.
Rudd defended PREVENT, re-affirming the Conservative plan to increase funding. One of the Blair-era architects of PREVENT, Hazel Blears, also came on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme (46:00) to state that for her, of the four counter-terrorism strands (prevent, pursue, prepare and protect), PREVENT was the “most important”. She further added (against mounting academic thinking) that the “evil ideology” which “underpinned” radicalisation and is “driving people” to violence needed confronting. To further cement policies which discriminatorily target the Muslim minority she added “we also need to do work out what it is to be a Muslim in a modern 21st century democracy”.
Like a bolting greyhound, the usual brown neocon-validator organisations and individuals came to the fore to evangelise the government’s miserably failed, and deeply troubling counter-extremism policy.
Disgusting Opportunism of the “Counter-Extremists”
There were some appallingly dismal interventions by the “usual suspects” among the profiteers of the counter-extremism third-party security contractor industry. Maajid Nawaz and Haras Rafiq decided to sell brand Quilliam Foundation, asking people to join Quilliam Circle – a £10/month subscription service. People dead, give us money seems to be their approach. Nawaz swiftly followed with a piece in the Daily Beast re-directing all attention to ideology using the demonising “Muslims as a swamp” theory and broken logic such as belief in a Caliphate being one of the “extremist ideas” that “terrorist insurgency rests on” – the logic falls apart when one considers that a majority of Muslims believe in the Caliphate, but reject ISIS and terrorism. of course, a reversion back to ideology as a foundational basis for terrorism provides succour to Quilliam’s raison d’être.
Coordinated Closed Society Propaganda?
This focus on ideology also helps support the far-right narrative which ultimately in turn buttresses the closed society counter-extremism agenda. There has been a particular narrative of not going back to “business as usual”. Nawaz called on things to “not to simply return to ‘normal’.” Here I would like to draw attention to Katie Hopkins. The media attention on Hopkins has revolved around her repulsive dog-whistling call for the genocide of the Muslims. This should not come as a surprise: neocons like Douglas Murray have long hinted at the same.
It is her piece in the Daily Mail which is pertinent, however. Hopkins described the idea of normality as a “sickness”. She further added that “carrying on as normal is not defiance” but the “default”.
So, what should people be doing? Nawaz helps in this regard:
“We ask those who have until this day not participated in the civil society struggle to root out all extremism from our communities to stand up and be counted. Now is not a time only for short term gestures and platitudes, though solidarity is necessary. We are all responsible for fighting extremism, and we can all play a long term role.”
In other words, people should mentally prepare for the slew of draconian, thought-policing counter-extremism/“integration” securitisation measures which the Conservatives have in the policy pipeline. Incidentally, Nawaz’s anti-normality theme expressed towards the end of his article is shared with someone who is calling for the genocide of Muslims. Whilst Nawaz has yet to condemn his LBC colleague over her genocidal dog-whistling, the synchrony in discourse is uncanny. Is there a top-down (RICU-inspired?) direction in managing the public discourse?
Pushing PREVENT-based censorship and regulation of Muslim discussions in particular, again within a day of the attack, was Tell MAMA. As I have elucidated in detail elsewhere, Tell MAMA is a “soft counter-extremism” measure, which has used the PREVENT policy to police discourses emanating from the Muslim minority.
Using the Manchester attack, Tell MAMA in an opinion piece on “extremism”, initially stated that extremist “rhetoric” required challenging and gave the example of groups that propounded the view of ‘Muslims being targeted by the State’ and ‘Islam being under attack’. This is disturbing; Muslims are being targeted by state policies in a discriminatory manner (Trojan Hoax anyone?). Furthermore, the constant demonisation and stigmatisation of Islam by the media, and the state’s official position to only encourage “reforming voices” is an “attack” on orthodox Islam itself. This frankly dangerous attempt at suppressing voices that seek to highlight repressive dynamics as “extremist” has the effect of further repressing the Muslim minority. It lends credence to the view that Tell MAMA is yet another state-validator organisation protecting bad policies and operating against the interests of the Muslim minority. It is interesting to note that the current published version of the article has edited out this Orwellian regulation of Muslim expression.
The interference with Muslims includes determining the “right” Islam. In one Tweet yesterday, Tell MAMA designated the term “kaafir” as “extremist” if used “divide against other faiths”. Kaafir is a theological term which intrinsically denotes rejection of Islam and therefore “divides” against other faiths. Is this really problematic. Should the terms “goy” and “gentile” be regarded as “extremist” too? And how does Tell MAMA square itself with PREVENT which divides britain into “extremist” and non-extremist based on legally indefinable definitions and neocon whim?
Another counter-extremism/PREVENT proponent exploiting the tragedy was Shaista Gohir. Far from practicing what she preaches and “focussing on the victims” (2:40) she launched a tirade against groups and individuals that effectively oppose PREVENT and its practitioners. She calls groups and individuals that do not condemn attacks (2:04), that “criticise government counter strategy and PREVENT” (which is fine if only those comfortable with the government do it), and “target people and vilify people” who are involved in the counter-extremism industry, as groups that “aren’t on our side” but on “the side of extremists”. (1:54) There is a healthy discourse in the Muslim community about pandering to the racist expectation of condemning atrocities, which reinforces the notion that Muslims are suspect communities unless the atrocity is perpetrated by a non-Muslim, or unless there is a public condemnatory announcement. Furthermore, there are also concerns within the Muslim community that those who take their seats within the power structure are compromised, and affected by a conflict of interest between their funding and the interests of the community. As for Gohir’s complaint “demonising” counter-extremists, it reeks of hypocrisy.
More to the point, however, is voicing these concerns and challenging the counter-extremism and their proponents “extremist”?
Perpetuating the demonisation of Islam by linking it to the attacks was Usama Hasan of Quilliam Foundation. Recalling an old public debate on the permissibility of musical instruments, Hasan effectively argued that “extreme anti-music sentiment” would contribute to people becoming suicide bombers. In other words, it reinforced a view which paints the general prohibition on musical instruments as “extremist”. This utterly idiotic comment ignores the fact that the very same orthodox Islam which regards musical instruments to be generally prohibited also categorically forbids the targeting of innocent civilians. There are attackers that go to clubs, dance and drink alcohol; are we to conclude that music may contribute to terrorist attacks too? As Jason Burke writing in the Guardian rightly points out, “even al-Qaida would probably consider killing teenagers at a concert to be beyond the pale.”
Moving on past the puppets we arrive at the string-pullers. We are living in a War on Terror paradigm and counter-extremism is constitutive of this neoconservative epistemology. From a neoconservative perspective, attacks like the one carried out in Manchester are advantageous. As I have elucidated elsewhere, neocons believe that such attacks draw out society from their slumbers and instils in them “an unconsummated desire for service and sacrifice”. It brings about a collectivist, military ethos, epitomised by Operation Temperer. It also allows neocons to exploit emotions and psychological malleability at such times to push through draconian policies.
Representing the exploitative, fascist closed society corner is the hate-filled face of Douglas Murray. Writing in the Sun in a particularly simplified style, Murray, per script, demonises Islam by synonymising the Manchester attack with Jihad (again, Islam categorically forbids the targeting of innocent civilians). Pertinently, there is no longer a distinction here between the smokescreen “Jihadism” and “Jihad” for the trucking Sun-readers.
Like the politicians and opportunist third-party security contractors highlighted above, Murray lends his support to PREVENT and whitewashes anti-Muslim discrimination. He writes,
“It is telling that the Government’s Prevent strategy has had so much pushback. Critics complain that it “scapegoats” or “spies” on Muslims. Prevent has had its problems but it is the best strategy going to deal with a real and urgent threat. Those who quibble should be reminded of who the real victims are. They are the young British girls who went out to a concert one Monday evening and never returned home.”
Murray defenestrates principles, ironically running counter to the PREVENT-defined “British values” he supports, by adopting a distinctly neoconservative approach that entails a Machiavellian manipulation of emotion. For Murray, the end (strengthening of a public surveillance programme) justifies the means (the discrimination and maltreatment of a minority).
The Need to Move Beyond PREVENT
Amber Rudd said that there was a “industry out there that doesn’t like PREVENT”. With a seemingly concerted effort to deflect state failings, it was the state-backed PREVENT industry that was all hands on deck within hours of the attack and exploiting a tragedy in support of policies.
The argument at first seems compelling: Look at this horrific attack – surely, we need something like PREVENT. Indeed, those who are active proponents of perpetual war, democracy installation, drone attacks, and scrapping human rights, along with the employees of the industry this group has given rise to, will call on solutions they have effectively shaped and created.
But if genuine solutions are needed then PREVENT – and the entire counter-extremism approach – is perhaps the worst tool to deploy. Academically unscientific and baseless, practically useless and more a Swiss army knife for repressive mechanisms against a target community, the policy is a concoction of disasters. Those who propagandise PREVENT conveniently overlook the fact Westminster and Manchester are examples of its failure, not its success. Indeed, in the case of the Manchester attack, it has been reported that PREVENT had been contacted.
Instead of re-starting an unending War on Terror, a holistic solution requires extracting policymakers from the tired, incredibly violent War on Terror paradigm, limiting imperialist violence abroad, re-balancing the liberty-security balance which sees the retirement of the futile pre-crime approach, and a re-emphasis on intelligence-led security operations that target individuals, not whole communities.
Over fifteen years of the War on Terror has produced more than ample evidence that unless politicians are not prepared to genuinely re-examine their approach root and branch to political violence, the risk of such attacks occurring again will remain.