It was effective because it felt so unexpected. A city in the north of England, miles from the capital where the only British killings at the hands of Islamist terrorists had taken place until now, was shaken last night by the worst terror attack on British soil since the 7/7 bombings. A suicide bombing carried out by Mancunian Salman Abedi killed at least 22 at an Ariana Grande concert whose audience was made up primarily of young women and girls.
It wasn’t supposed to happen here, but it did, and the people of Manchester couldn’t have done more under the circumstances: taxis in the vicinity of the arena where the attack took place turned off their meters, hotels offered free rooms, eateries handed out food and locals opened their doors to those affected. There were reports of the homeless comforting victims as they died and tending to those caught in the blast. This, perversely and prematurely, felt like hope at a devastating time.
Last night, it was life-affirming to see people coming together in response to a terrible tragedy. Today, it’s wholly dispiriting but entirely unsurprising to find the usual suspects are using that same tragedy to push their own agendas. The outright bigots who are somehow still allowed to hold accounts on our ethically lax social media sites salivate over Manchester. They gloat that it’s ‘confirmation’ Muslims are here to destroy the West, while paid hate-monger Katie Hopkins—the biggest Twitter troll of all—calls for a “final solution”. Rightwing media commentators propose setting up internment camps, while the Murdoch press use the death and misery to score political points for their preferred party. What encouragement there was in seeing people from all walks of life unite yesterday has quickly been snuffed out, as per usual, by a right-wing that welcomes news of terrorism as a means of whipping up hatred even before all the facts have been established.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for Manchester, something the group is wont to do after most any attack carried out by someone with vaguely Islamist sympathies, though the attacker may have acted alone. Whether ISIS is directly responsible doesn’t actually matter; their claim of involvement is useful to both sides of this new perpetual war. ISIS seeks its own annihilation from the West, so that it might realize a prophecy of apocalyptic holy war, and will carry out or assume ownership of any atrocities that might increase Western hostility towards it. Meanwhile, the Right—now having a global resurgence due to, among other things, the rise of a nihilistic new kind of terror—relies on ISIS to help keep fear and anger high, something rightwing politicians happily feed upon in their pursuit of power.
Trump, Le Pen and their kind may publicly despise ISIS, but they wouldn’t have made such political headway without them. These politicians are happy to surf these waves of anxiety. Trump used the Pulse nightclub shooting and other terrorist incidents that occurred during his election campaign to shore up support and barely inch his way into the White House. Le Pen played on anti-Muslim sentiment fostered by a series of Islamist attacks in France to take 10 million votes in the recent French presidential election. Theresa May will use Manchester to galvanize support for her ever more rightwing Conservatives and end the unexpected surge by the opposition in the run-up to the UK general election.
Just as it seemed the more progressive Labour party might have a slim chance of coming to power next month, May is already using Manchester to talk tough on terror and present herself as the “strong and stable” leader Britain needs. Just as we were in danger of becoming desensitized to terror attacks in Europe, the horror gets ramped up: a suicide bombing at a pop concert full of women and children, in a part of Britain unused to being the focus of terror groups. General election campaigning is supposed to have been put on pause for the time being, but May must know this could hardly be a better opportunity to win back voters who were starting to look elsewhere. Don’t be surprised if the Conservatives rehash the old Corbyn is a “terrorist sympathiser” line, popularized by David Cameron, to end their rivals’ chances for good.
It’s all becoming too predictable. The hardliners in the West secure power in part by talking tough on Muslims, society’s current bogeymen du jour, while chaos-seeking Islamist terror groups feed on the resulting anti-Islamic sentiment. Both sides benefit from this terror. They seem like willing players in a war without end. The two sides consist of an old kind of politician, fostering hatred against an ‘other’ for power, but, perhaps, a new kind of terrorist. Organisations like the IRA and PLO, to name but two examples, had fixed goals. They wanted territory. The end game of Wahhabist terror groups like ISIS, on the other hand, is no less than the destruction of mankind. They require no land—it’s a floating ideology that relies on the continued political success of gung-ho hardliners like Trump and May to keep swelling their ranks with recruits. How, exactly, does this end?