It is always disconcerting to wake up to the news of terrorism, causalities, pictures of screaming children, ambulances, solemn looking police officers making official comments, and jumpy radio and television journalists speaking on the topic.
The scenes from the Manchester concert hall suggest utter carnage, fear and shock. These images will have reverberated around the world by now. Political leaders, community spokespersons and informed commentators will all be making various statements.
As the initial shocks subside, however, it will lead to serious questions about the nature of this incident and the people behind it. In a charged political and cultural climate, there will be the inevitable ‘Muslim question’ about what has gone on. Was this the actions of a ‘lone actor terrorist’? Were they inspired or direct by extremist individuals or groups outside the community or in the country? If we can be sure that an extremist with a religious or ideological motive carried this out, is it likely that the perpetrator was of Muslim background? If this is the case, was the individual British-born or from outside of the country?
With 22 dead and 59 injured by what looks like a nail bomb, other commentators and opinion formers are talking about another set of usual suspect topics. That ‘Prevent’ is failing or that we need greater injections of ‘Prevent’ thinking and practice. Alternatively, that British Muslims need to do more to fight the terrorism that comes from within their own ranks. Or, that Islam is the problem, and Muslims are perpetuating it. These utterances will come from the counter-Jihad school of thought, fuelled by alt-right and related revolutionary right-wing thinking.
There will also be those who argue that ‘Prevent’ is an irrelevance at best. That these terrorist acts are a reflection of the frustration felt by the ‘Muslim world’ as it comes to terms with the consequences of neoliberalism and xenophobia. And that the only way to deal with these issues is to focus on community development, investment in neighbourhoods and cities, and a flattening out of social mobility, where integration is a two-way street. In reality, the most effective sets of solutions will cut through this rhetoric based on evidenced thinking with long-term objectives.
Scenes of young people, children, parents and families, screaming and shouting in fear, running in all directions, separating from each other, are still the defining images of the events last night. Stories of how ordinary citizens of Manchester opened up their doors in the middle of the night to allow people fleeing the scene to recharge their phones or to call others for assistance will be told and re-told. That the taxi drivers in the city, of which a significant majority are South Asian Muslims, ensured that people fleeing the scene were able to get home and without charge, will be hailed as a victory for community relations.
The general election is three weeks away but campaigning will temporarily stop today. However, what will replace it is the outcry, the soul-searching, the explanation, the reaction and the condemnation. From the mainstream to the marginal, from the centre to the periphery, it is important that these voices do not divide. There is strength in unity and we are all responsible for ensuring it.