Writer, activist and Manchester resident Sarah Ayub argues that Salman Abedi committed the Manchester atrocity because of Britain’s foreign policy and the focus on Didsbury Mosque is distracting us from that truth.
In the aftermath of the tragic attack on Manchester Arena, Muslims have naturally responded just like any other community with Muslim taxi drivers seeing the victims home, Muslims raising funds for the victims , Muslims taking part in vigils, Muslims offering free rooms, Muslim doctors treating the casualties, Muslims showing support and generally rallying around the community because Manchester is our home too and this has affected us just as deeply as anyone else.
But why do we have to prove our humanity?
Once again we are forced to bear the burden of collective responsibility due to the actions of one individual, with the reputation of an excellent mosque at stake. A mosque which has been at the forefront of building community relations; which has opened its doors to all faiths and backgrounds; which has led blood donation and health campaigns with the NHS; which has led multi-faith initiatives; which has worked with the police, local authorities, and a multitude of organisations to help build a strong community.
But this shouldn’t even be about Muslims. This time should be a time for the families and their victims to be allowed to grieve and for the community to process what has happened. This is a time to speak the truth about why this happened for the sake of everyone who has been affected so we can avoid it happening again. For the sake of every innocent person who has ever been the victim of such attacks, from Europe to the Middle East. Yet once again the truth is being buried under the garbage of vile attacks directed against Didsbury mosque.
From what has been revealed about him, Salman Abedi appeared to be a member of the general Manchester community. He accessed many places, he went to Burnage High School, he attended Salford University, he went to bars and night clubs and he most likely attended many mosques across Manchester. Did he attend Didsbury mosque? I don’t know – as a regular worshipper there for many years I have not seen him, but even if he did, what difference does that make?
Mosques are public places of worship that people access throughout the day, mainly to fulfil a requirement of the Muslim faith: the five daily prayers. Those accessing the mosque come from all over the community — students, professional men and women across all backgrounds and ages. It is not possible to regulate who comes in and out.
But regardless, why is it significant whether Abedi attended the mosque or not? No one questioned which church Jo Cox’s murderer attended or the church of the IRA bombers of 1996 who struck right in the heart of Manchester. Why is it that when a perpetrator is a Muslim his place of worship becomes significant?
The implication here is that if he attended a mosque that somehow must mean Islamic extremist ideology has led to his radicalisation. I reject that implication. The truth is that this attack had little to do with Islamic ideology and more to do with Western foreign policy framed in the narrative of the “war on terror.”
For one thing Abedi was not a devout Muslim, he drank, partied and took drugs. He was also reported as having random rages, social problems, a “split personality” and being “mental.”
Secondly Abedi’s sister spoke of how he wanted revenge when he saw Muslim children dying everywhere — a motivation that clearly speaks of grievances over Western foreign policy.
New research has shown how ISIS targets young men looking for redemption from crime, drugs or gangs. A psychologically disturbed individual with social problems and grievances over Western foreign policy in Muslim lands, who knew little of his religion, made him a perfect target for ISIS recruitment.
ISIS have made it clear that part of their strategy is to fuel the grievances of Western foreign policy and the hatred and division that is Islamophobia, in order to legitimise their “Clash of Civilisations” narrative that facilitates their recruitment.
War on terror
Yet here we are once more burying that reality by putting Islam under the spotlight again. I am sure this suits our governments “war on terror” narrative as it takes the spotlight off them and allows them to justify their unethical foreign policy and heavy-handed counter terrorism measures.
It is easy to put the spotlight on the Muslim community and convince Europe that there is something threatening about Islamic ideology that must be addressed, bombarding the masses with narratives of “Muslim terrorism” so Muslim kids buried under rubble as a result of Western bombs are barely noticed.
Are foreign policy grievances an excuse to commit atrocities? No. Does it make the world an unsafer place increasing the likelihood for atrocious acts? Yes.
Some of the world’s top terrorism experts have drawn this connection. For example, Eliza Mannigham Buller, the General Director of M15, from 2002–2007 confirmed that the invasion of Iraq led to an increase in the threat of terrorism. She has also said that our involvement in Iraq radicalised a whole generation of young people. Furthermore extremists of a Muslim background usually cite political justifications for their crimes, not ideological ones.
A leaked MI5 study in 2008 reported that far from being Islamic fundamentalists, violent extremists are “religious novices” who do not practice their faith and some are even involved in drug taking and drinking alcohol, very similar to what we know about Abedi.
However, what is most interesting about this report is that it evidenced that a well established religious identity actually protects against radicalisation. So why are we dragging a mosque through the mud rather than recognising these factors?
If we want to reduce the threat of terrorism we should not be questioning a place of worship about whether a man called Salman Abedi went to pray there. Rather, we need to do two things: firstly recognise the fact that Islamic teachings are key to preventing radicalisation and that mosques are in a prime position to give young Muslims a strong Muslim identity.
Secondly, we need to address the fact that the “war on terror” narrative isn’t working because it isn’t keeping us safe in Britain or for that matter, in Europe or Turkey, or Pakistan or the Middle East.
As a friend recently said, the sad truth is that we will never be able to make this world a safer one, let alone a better one, until the kids killed by British cluster bombs in Yemen, or American drones in Pakistan, are afforded the same human value as the British kids killed by a man with a Muslim name in Manchester.
As long as we do not understand that I am afraid that all of us, Muslims and non-Muslims, will carry on paying the price.