On Monday night, there was a concert by the American singer Ariana Grande at Manchester Arena, the largest indoor concert venue in Europe. Grande is quite famous among millions of teenagers in the world and of course in the U.K. as well. The show was sold out, and thousands of fans, mostly teenagers, were chanting Ariana's name and dancing to her songs until that horrible moment when a terrifying explosion caused fatalities and injuries to innocent people along with broken hopes and peace in the multicultural, and vibrant city of Manchester. We have all seen the heartbreaking scenes from Manchester Arena. This barbaric attack leads to the questions: Why did terrorism target the United Kingdom? And why Manchester?
The United Kingdom, as a result of its colonial past, hosts a multicultural society consisting of communities with various religious and ethnic backgrounds. For decades, British Muslims, from different roots such as Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs, Turks, Africans and many others, have lived alongside the rest of the British people. The British never stopped enjoying this multi-cultural wealth and never showed a significant tendency toward or support for xenophobic, anti-Islamic political or social movements as are encountered on the European continent, i.e. France, Germany, Holland and Austria.
Global terrorism that identifies with a discourse mixing terrorism, extremism and Salafi Islam starting from the 9/11 attacks resulted in two significant consequences: First, Western military interventions in the Middle East that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians; also violence originating in religious extremism became a multifaceted problem and threat not only for the Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa but also Western European countries. The second is the dramatic rise in anti-Islamic (I do not prefer the term Islamophobic) political discourse that goes hand in hand with xenophobia, racism and far-right political extremism. We have witnessed the huge electoral empowerment of the far right in France, Germany, Austria and Holland. Furthermore, the rise of far-right politics forced "central" political parties to shift to an anti-Islamic discourse to cope with rising far-right figures. As a result, Muslims in these countries suffer from being the "other," stigmatization and even loss of basic human rights like wearing religious outfits and bans on building minarets and calls to prayer. So Muslims have also become primary victims of these attacks.
Just after the horrible attack in Manchester, some British social media users committed symbolic and verbal violence on Muslims, especially British Muslims, by addressing them as terrorists and as being responsible for these attacks. LBC presenter Katie Hopkins, a popular public figure, tweeted that a "final solution" for Muslims is needed to eliminate the problem of terrorism in the U.K. Furthermore, just a few hours following the attack, an attempt to burn a mosque in Manchester resulted in partial damage.
Moreover, it would not be a conspiracy to say that there was an attempt to manipulate the upcoming British elections. Before the attack, the hottest topics were care for the elderly, the National Health Service, and the Brexit deal with the European Union. Now, migration policies (as if the attacker is not British-born), the elimination of extremist Islamists and anti-Islamic discourse are at the top of the agenda in election debates. So securing migration will very likely be among top political agenda items as it was in France, Belgium, Germany, Canada and the U.S. In a nutshell, this is a closed circle. First, a terrorist (i.e. Daesh) commits a horrible terrorist attack, and afterwards due to this attack, far right parties try to increase their votes by initiating an anti-Islamic discourse. We should remember the murder of British member of parliament, Jo Cox, by an extreme right murderer last year. These political parties try to play the game of the Clash of Civilizations, as Samuel P. Huntington hypothesized in the late 1990s.
Now, Britain is being tested. Obviously, an evil mind is trying to transform Britain from a multicultural, peaceful, democratic country into a clash of civilizations where people become fearful of both terrorism and far-right movements. The U.K. is not only the most liberal and democratic country in Europe for Muslim minorities, but also the pioneering European country in support of the independence of Palestine and recognizing Bashar al-Assad and Daesh as "twin devils." So why do terrorists target Britain? Simply, invisible hands are trying to damage British democracy and manipulate its Middle East policy.
We should never forget that the initial aim of terrorism is to shock people and make governments lose their composure. However, these cruel terrorists will never ever achieve their aims. As the famous British poster designed for World War II says, "We will keep calm, and carry on." To this end, the first and probably the most significant step is not too challenging indeed. We should all unite against terrorism no matter where it targets and maintain solidarity against racist and fascist movements and discourses. Our thoughts and prayers are with beautiful Britain and the people who lost their lives in this dreadful attack in Manchester.
* Ph.D. at the University of York