Manchester Arena attack: Terrorism cannot be tackled without identifying the root cause

We are nowhere close to getting answers more than 24 hours after the gruesome terror attack in Manchester Arena that struck at the heart of western civilisation and targeted everything that it stands for. In all, 22 young lives have been snuffed out. Saffie Rose Roussos was 8 years old. She couldn't start properly the journey of her life. Olivia Campbell was 15. At the time of writing, 59 more such kids and teenagers are fighting for their lives. The death count may yet rise.

We have been told again and again and again that terrorists do not belong to any religion. They are just messengers of hatred with black hearts and all they want is to kill people. We are told that terrorists are rootless, context-free, godless, mindless killing machines. Politicians, thinkers, writers, journalists — the dominant liberal narrative either stubbornly denies or refuses to see the logical impossibility in its argument.

Can anyone kill anyone without a complete lack of motivation? Can human beings perform the act of murder (mass murder in most cases) without any underlying impetus? Murder isn't just any crime that involves breaking of man-made law. It is against the laws of nature. It is a psychosomatic incident.

 Manchester Arena attack: Terrorism cannot be tackled without identifying the root cause

Vehicles are seen near a police cordon outside the Manchester Arena. Reuters

If the liberal narrative about human behaviour when it comes to terrorism is correct, then we have to rethink the entire history of human civilisation. The assumption, that humans are essentially rational beings, no longer holds because every human can engage in violent behaviour and kill others based on completely nothing.

When challenged — as some outliers like Salman Rushdie, Sam Harris, Maajid Nawaz, Ali Ahmed Rizvi or Ayaan Hirsi Ali have done — that the liberal argument denotes a logical impossibility — the edifice has either boxed itself into a fortress of semantic jugglery or created elaborate grievance narratives to justify the theory that murder of innocents have nothing to do with any ideology or religion.

We have been subjected to a spate of words that carry little meaning, designed not to get closer to the truth but to take us away from it. Pakistan claimed Ajmal Kasab was a "non-state actor". The Obama administration created an entirely new term called "violent extremism" in the belief that linking terrorism to any ideology would play into the hands of the terrorists. Fair point. And completely counter-productive.

By refusing to be honest about terrorism and shutting our senses against its root cause, we have exacerbated the problem. The scourge of terrorism did not stop because Barack Obama refused to call it 'Islamist terrorism', rather it created newer and newer grievance narratives to the extent that it has become impossible now to talk about terrorism without indulging in blatant self-deception.

And this self-deception is wounding us. As Jeffrey Taylor writes in Quillette: "Speech consists of words. Words and how we use them matter. So, in the annals of self-defeating political inanities, the Obama administration’s term for Islamist terrorism – "violent extremism" – stands out as unusually obfuscatory, semantically unsound, and craven… It baldly omits their motivating ideology and purports that “extremism” can exist as a rootless, groundless, free-floating phenomenon. The term was so patently contrived to avoid mention of Islam that Republican candidate Donald Trump… could appear courageous to many just by saying 'Islamic terrorism.'

It is not just in the realm of ideas that this dishonesty hampers us. A British government report had pointed out in 2008 that "attempts to turn young people away from Islamic extremism are being hampered by politically-correct language". UK spent millions of pounds to co-opt and assimilate Muslim communities within the larger British society, by urging them to "reject extremist ideology and activities, and encourage others to do the same". The agenda got nowhere. Why? Because the programme to "stop young people turning to violent extremism 'lacked intelligence' about where to focus resources." The key problem, identified the report, is that politicians feared "using more direct language may exacerbate community tensions."

The delusion just doesn't end with semantics. We have kept innovating grievance narratives in the belief that if terrorism is caused by a grievance then removing the grievance will end terrorism. This is a hugely problematic narrative because flipped around, it implies that terrorism can be justified by grievances.

To avoid such a possibility, therefore, the western world order has been asphyxiating itself into a claustrophobic corner, self-censoring words and terms, coining new ones stricken by a permanent fear that even the slightest slip will cause more grievance to Muslims and consequently, more terror. This is self-defeatism and price of this delusion is being paid with blood.

What kind of grievance motivates an individual to strap a bomb around torso and detonate the device at the middle of a pop concert amid thousands of innocent, happy young people?

In The Grievance Defense, Peter Hussey writes in the context of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing: "The New York Times charged that the US had failed to assimilate the bombers' family, implying presumably, 'What could anyone expect them to do other then bomb the Boston Marathon?' Then the bombers were humanised. They were described as friendly school chums, attractive to women… Then came the 'self-actualisation' explanation for terrorism: Apparently, as the two brothers were not members of any terrorist group but possibly just lone-wolf types, America had failed to 'assimilate' them properly — implying that their bombing was somehow our fault."

From the little that we do know about Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old whom British authorities have identified as the suicide bomber, he fits into a pattern that defines such terrorists. Multiculturalism is the keystones of British or French cultures. Yet these nations have suffered repeatedly from terrorist attacks. Why? The more we fail honestly to engage with this question, the further shall we be in mounting even a semblance of attack against terrorism.

The parents of Abedi, who was born and brought up in Britain, were Libyan refugees who fled the Muammar Gaddafi regime. Abedi reportedly made several recent trips to his ancestral nation and returned only as recently as last week. The Telegraph, UK, reports that "Abedi had become radicalised recently — it is not entirely clear when — and had worshiped at a local mosque that has, in the past, been accused of fund-raising for jihadists."

The newspaper talked to Abedi's neighbour Lina Ahmed, 21, who said: "A couple of months ago he (Salman) was chanting the first kalma (Islamic prayer) really loudly in the street. He was chanting in Arabic. He was saying 'There is only one God and the Prophet Mohammed is his messenger'." Another family friend told the newspaper that Abedis were "very religious".

Evidence would point to the conclusion that Abedi was a devout Muslim. Yet Manchester mayor, while presiding over a vigil in memory of those killed in the tragedy, held Abedi was not a representative of the Muslim community.

Talking to BBC, Andy Burnham said "This was an act of extremism.. It doesn't represent any religion. It doesn't represent any community. It certainly doesn't represent Greater Manchester… There are those who will like to make it all the responsibility of the Muslim community. Well, I'm afraid that is wrong."

The Manchester mayor was earnest in his comments and it was evident that he totally believed in what he said. He possibly took it as his responsibility to bring communities together and stress on this being a "rootless act" because any admission to the contrary would raise uncomfortable questions. The mayor was acting in good faith but this reflexive attempt to shy away from truth is the single biggest reason why we still have no answer to terrorism.

If we do not identify the root cause of terrorism, its undeniable link with a narrow reading of Islam and the political project of its followers and sponsors to 'dominate the world', then we shall not only fail to tackle terrorism, we will keep on heaping oodles of guilt on the entire Muslim community who have nothing to do with terrorism.

As author Salman Rushdie held in a speech last year: "The problem is that there's been a mutation in Islam which has become unusually virulent and powerful. And it needs to be dealt with but in order to deal with it we have to first call it by its true name."

Just like Andy Burnham, British prime minister has stressed that "terrorism shall never win". In the televised speech following the attack, she claimed that "The spirit of Manchester — and the spirit of Britain — is far mightier than the sick plots of depraved terrorists. That is why the terrorists will never win, and we will prevail."

We saw a glimpse of this British spirit when thousands of people from different communities gathered together across Britain to express solidarity with the victims. And yet, despite such staunch expressions of love and togetherness, Theresa May just became the first British prime minister to deploy 5,000 soldiers on British streets. In order to do that, she increased Britain's threat level from "severe" to its highest rating, "critical". Called "Operation Temperer", this involves placing armed troops in every nook and corner of Britain in anticipation of terror attack.

Try as might the British prime minister claim that the "terrorists shall never win", if they have managed to create such chaos within British society and disrupt its order, they have already won.

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Updated Date: May 24, 2017 18:17:40 IST