Notebook

Manchester and Radical Islam

Police and other emergency services after the explosion in Manchester
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The predictable features of Islamic terrorism

THE SUICIDE BOMBING at a music concert in Manchester displayed what are now predictable features of Islamic terrorism in Western countries. The terrorist is usually a young person who has difficulties in adjusting in a liberal society, comes from a middle class—and not an impoverished—background, is educated and, tellingly, has made a trip to one of the troubled countries in the Arc of Islam that spans from the Hindu Kush to the Atlas mountains.

A reasonable question that follows from these facts is: why are Western societies unable to cope with the menace when they know so much about it? The common answer is that it is next to impossible to check ‘lone wolf’ attacks in time. The ability to do this is like finding a needle in a haystack. This is not wholly accurate. The combination of human and signal intelligence—which includes the sweeping monitoring of virtually all electronic communication—has ensured that Western security agencies have more than a fighting chance to detect, check and nab terrorists in their tracks. If some do slip through the cracks, then that is largely due to the so-called safeguards put in place to prevent the full sweep of surveillance where and when it is necessary.

The real problem is different and has caught the West in a bind. It is the futile quest to balance liberal values—that includes openness and welcoming people from other cultures—with a sense of security. This has worked well in the case of many people from backgrounds as different as Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox and many others. But as is the case in such matters, it is the exception to the trend that matters and not the norm. The swath of people from Islamic background in countries as diverse as France, The Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Britain are simply unwilling to integrate into these societies in a meaningful way. Even when they have moved to these countries, the longing for their homeland does not cease. Normally, there’s nothing out of place here: this is part and parcel of the diaspora experience. Trouble begins when an inability to integrate moves turns into violence. That link has been seen again and again in scores of terrorist cases.

In the case of the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, the 23-year-old of Libyan descent, this was more than obvious in the statement given by his sister Jomana Abedi, as reported by The Wall Street Journal after the carnage. She said, “I think he saw children—Muslim children—dying everywhere, and wanted revenge. He saw the explosives America drops on children in Syria, and he wanted revenge.” She further added, “Whether he got that is between him and God.”

It is, of course, hard to imagine that Abedi, a young malcontent, had the ability to fathom the currents of international relations but what his sister said tells a lot. Muslim children probably face greater danger from tyrants back home than from America dropping bombs on them. The brutal military means employed by Bashar al-Assad in entire regions in Syria to quell the rebellion is beyond belief. And yet, this teenager of Libyan extraction blamed the United States! The whole notion of ‘injustice’—an expression favoured by extremists—is out of place: Western countries are not to be blamed for the mess that Middle Eastern countries find themselves in. Most developing countries become ungovernable at some point or the other in their history but the crisis is particularly acute in the Middle East. Only two political forms exist: either you have repressive monarchies, or failing or deeply-troubled nation-states. In the former category lie Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, among others; in the latter, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Turkey and others. Without fail, in each case, the crisis is home-made and has little or nothing to do with what the US or other Western powers have allegedly done.

This is the feeding point of the problems faced by Muslims who move to the West. At home, there is no chance for a proper life. But once they move to Britain or France or any European country, they fail to integrate into those societies. Then comes the blame for what is happening in this life: the countries where they have immigrated to are to be blamed. Any rational person would dispute that. If one is so unhappy, better move on. Why stay in a country—and by choice—when one is unhappy? The option of going back to one’s culture is always available.

It is not as if European countries have not made an effort at integration. Countless ‘integration committees’ and ‘inter-faith dialogues’ have been organised, but mostly to little avail. This is a problem that cannot be sorted by deporting ‘troublemakers’. A huge number of migrants from the Middle East are now citizens of European countries. Any extreme solution like expulsion are not feasible. But the first step towards one lies in getting rid of shibboleths like considering terrorists to be merely misguided youngsters. The problem is far deeper than what a counselling session can sort out. What Europe and Europeans first need to accept is that liberal values are out of place in many situations and cannot be simply forced on people who don’t want to accept them in the first place. What is being seen in the bad lands of Bedford, the banlieues of Paris and the no-go zones of Molenbeek in Brussels is only a surface manifestation of a deep crisis in Europe.