Douglas Murray, Spectator, May 27, 2017
The meeting place of the two worlds could not have been more sharply defined. In Manchester Arena, thousands of young women had spent the night singing and dancing at a show in Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman tour. Songs such as the hit ‘Side To Side’ were performed: ‘Tonight I’m making deals with the devil/ And I know it’s gonna get me in trouble…/ Let them hoes know.’
Waiting for them in the foyer as they streamed out was Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old whose Libyan parents settled in the UK after fleeing the Gaddafi regime. A man whose neighbours said he must have been radicalised in Manchester, ‘all those types’ having been driven out of Tripoli. So it was that on their exit from the Manchester Arena, these young women — out for nothing more than a good night — met a literalist from the Islamic faith. A man for whom the concept of a ‘dangerous woman’ was not a joke, not about ‘empowerment’ and certainly not a metaphor. Abedi would have believed it was real: devil, hoes, the lot.
Even after all these years, all these attacks and all these dead, the West still keeps asking the same question after events like those of Monday night: ‘Who would do such a thing?’ The answer is always the same. Sometimes the culprits are home-grown. Sometimes they are recent arrivals. Sometimes they have been in the West for generations, eat fish and chips and play cricket. Sometimes — like last month’s attacker in Stockholm, or last year’s suicide bomber in Ansbach, Germany — they arrived in Europe just a few months earlier. Sometimes people claim the perpetrator is a lone wolf, unknown to the authorities. More often it turns out (in a term coined by Mark Steyn) to be a known wolf, in the peripheral vision of the security services.
Yet still our society wonders: what would make someone do such a thing? The tone of bafflement is strange — like a society that keeps asking a question, but keeps its fingers lodged firmly in its ears whenever it is given the answer.
Only last month this now traditional national rite was led by no less a figure than the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall. At the beginning of April, Westminster Abbey was the venue for a national act of mourning for the victims of the previous month’s terrorist attack. The Dean used his sermon — at what was billed as ‘a service of hope’ — to announce that Britain was ‘bewildered’ by the actions of Khalid Masood.
‘What could possibly motivate a man,’ asked the Dean, ‘to hire a car and take it from Birmingham to Brighton to London, and then to drive it fast at people he had never met, couldn’t possibly know, against whom he had no personal grudge, no reason to hate them, and then run at the gates of the Palace of Westminster to cause another death? It seems likely we shall never know.’
Actually, most people could likely make a guess. And had the Dean waited just a few days, he could have joined them. Masood’s final WhatsApp messages, sent to a friend just before he ploughed his car along Westminster Bridge, revealed this Muslim convert was ‘waging jihad’ for Allah. The Dean was hardly going to get back up into his pulpit and say: ‘Apologies. Turns out we do know. It was jihad for Allah.’ The impossibility of that scenario speaks to the deeper disaster — beneath the bodies and the blood — of the state we’ve got into.
For their part, the Islamists are amazingly clear about what they want and the reasons why they act accordingly. You never have to read between the lines. Listen to Jawad Akbar, recorded in the UK in 2004 as he discussed the soft targets he and his al Qaeda-linked cell were planning to hit. The targets included the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London. What was the appeal? As Akbar said to his colleague, Omar Khyam, no one could ‘turn round and say “Oh they are innocent”, those slags dancing around.’
It is the same reason why ten years ago next month Bilal Abdullah and Kafeel Ahmed (an NHS doctor and an engineering PhD student respectively) planted a car bomb outside the glass front of the Tiger Tiger club on London’s Haymarket on ladies’ night. They then planted another just down the road in the hope that those ‘slags’ fleeing from the first blast would run straight into the second. It is why when Irfan Naseer and his 11-member cell from Birmingham were convicted of plotting mass casualty terror attacks in 2013, one of their targets was — once again — a nightclub area of the city. In familiar tones, Naseer speculated on these places where ‘the kuffar [a derogatory term for non-Muslims], slags and whores go drinking and clubbing’ and ‘have sex like donkeys’.
Where does it come from, this hatred the Islamists hold — as well as everyone else they loathe — for half the human species? Even moderate Muslims hate it when you ask this, but the question is begged before us all. What do people think the burka is? Or the niqab? Or even the headscarf? Why do Muslim societies — however much freedom they give men — always and everywhere restrict the freedom of women? Why are the sharia courts, which legally operate in the UK, set up to prejudice the rights of women? Why do Islamists especially hate women from their faith who raise their voices against the literalists and extremists?
Do people think this stuff comes from thin air? It was always there. Because it’s at the religion’s origins and, unlike the women–suspecting stuff in the other monotheisms (mild though they are by comparison), too few people are willing to admit it or reform this hatred, disdain and of course fear of women that is inherent in Islam. It is a constant of Islamic history, along with the Jews, the gays and the ‘wrong type of Muslim’: always and everywhere, the question of women. It’s our own fault because we have been told it so many times. As the Australian cleric Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali famously said to 500 worshippers in Sydney in 2006: ‘If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside without cover, and the cats come to eat it, whose fault is it — the cat’s or the uncovered meat’s? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.’
This view is itself barely covered over. Such disdain is what led to the abuse of hundreds of girls in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxfordshire and elsewhere across this country in recent decades. The fear is what led to the Pakistani Taleban beheading Shabana — one of the region’s most famous dancers — in the Swat Valley in 2009. And to the stoning of Ghofrane Haddaoui in Marseilles (yes, Marseilles) in 2004.
Obviously, in the wake of Manchester, there are security questions to address. Not least how someone once again known to the authorities could have made such a devastatingly effective explosive device. Certainly it shatters the comforting narrative we have told ourselves in Britain over recent years, that the security services are one step ahead of the terrorists on most things other than the (essentially impossible to prevent) knife and car jihad attacks.
But what we seem most likely to dodge yet again is the possibility of learning any proper lessons at all from this.
Theresa May and other politicians stress we will never give in. And they are right to do so. But beneath the defiance lie deep, and deeply unanswered, questions. Questions which people across Europe are increasingly dwelling on, but which their political representatives dare not address.
Exactly a year ago, Greater Manchester Police staged a carefully prepared mock terrorist attack in the city’s shopping centre to test response capabilities. At one stage, an actor playing a suicide bomber burst through a doorway and detonated a fake device while shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘Allah is Greatest’). The intention, obviously, was to make the scenario realistic. But the use of the jihadists’ signature sign-off sent social media into a spin. Soon community spokesmen were complaining on the media. One went on Sky to talk about the need ‘to have a bit of religious and cultural context when they’re doing training like this in a wider setting about the possible implications’.
Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan was hauled before the press. ‘On reflection,’ he admitted, ‘we acknowledge that it was unacceptable to use this religious phrase immediately before the mock suicide bombing, which so vocally linked this exercise with Islam. We recognise and apologise for the offence that this has caused.’
Greater Manchester’s police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, followed up: ‘It is frustrating the operation has been marred by the ill-judged, unnecessary and unacceptable decision by organisers to have those playing the parts of terrorists to shout “Allahu Akbar” before setting off their fake bombs. It didn’t add anything to the event, but has the potential to undermine the great community relations we have in Greater Manchester.’ Perhaps when the blood has been cleared from the pavements of Manchester, someone could ask how many lives such excruciating societal stupidity — from pulpit to police force — has saved, or ever will save?
In Piccadilly Gardens, at lunchtime on the day after the attacks, crowds of people listened to a busker play the usual post-massacre playlist: ‘All You Need Is Love’ and ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’. But just like the renditions of ‘Imagine’, the buskers are wrong. We need to do more than imagine. We need more than love. Everything is not all right. We need to address this problem, and start at the roots. Otherwise our societies will continue to be caught between people who mean what they say and a society which won’t even listen. And so they’ll keep meeting violently, these two worlds.
On Monday night, Ariana Grande was in her traditional suspenders, singing: ‘Don’t need permission/ Made my decision to test my limits/ ’Cause it’s my business, God as my witness…/ I’m locked and loaded/ Completely focused.’ Outside, waiting, was someone who was really focused. It is time we made some effort to focus, too.