Out of all the distress and fury from the BBC and social media about the attack on Muslims in Manchester, one incident stood out for particular recrimination. Some idiot had shouted, ‘When are you going to stop bombing people?’ at a fourteen-year-old Muslim girl.
The tormented teenager, as she was described, was a pupil at Manchester Islamic High School for Girls. The incident occurred after Monday evening’s suicide bombing at Manchester Arena, in which twenty two people were killed and dozens more injured at a pop concert. An incident that has, of course, greatly affected the local Muslim community, which appears to be astonished by the event.
Mona Mohamed, headteacher at the school, told Mishal Husain of Radio 4’s Today programme, that the girl had been ‘upset and hurt’ by the comment, but had not responded as she had been advised along with all other girls at the school to keep quiet if they were subjected to ‘Islamophobic abuse.’
Muslim headteachers do not often appear on Radio 4 but Husain, very worried about the possibility of increased ‘Islamophobia’, did not feel inclined to ask her how the girls felt about the bombing, or whether she had any concerns about how they were going to live in a western society. Questions of identity and integration among the girls who are all obliged to wear Islamic dress as their school uniform were not asked at all.
The general opinion on Twitter, from Muslim men and white British ‘yummy mummies’, was that asking a teenage girl a question like that was quite outrageous. The Asian men saw it as yet another attack on their faith and community, but the white tweeters saw it as child abuse. This suggested a slight contradiction in modern British child-rearing attitudes: on the one hand teenagers are supposed to pass endless exams and are forced to become academic even if they want to be hairdressers or lorry drivers, on the other they are not really expected to know anything much, particularly about the world around them.
I was reminded of this recently when a friend told me her daughter had been asked a political question in an interview for a university place. ‘How could any eighteen-year-old girl be expected to know that?’ she said indignantly.
I thought back longingly to the 1970s when I joined the Labour Party at sixteen, and took a keen interest in the Irish ‘Troubles.’ A lot of school girls were into politics then but not now it seems. Today, she would have a hard time explaining her interests to her friends on Facebook. Curiosity about current affairs is seen as geeky and unattractive again, as they are their parents’ allies in the US cult of the little princess. Today’s teenagers are generally not expected to be reading the Bronte sisters, Dickens or Marx or engaging in topical debates, but sitting in their bedrooms sending bullying messages on social media, sexting, and self-harming, perhaps all three. Any of those are now more usual than waving Mao’s little red book at your grandma.
That teenager accosted in the street was seen as vulnerable, a discursive answer was not expected or required, or perhaps she was privileged because she was asked the most crucial question in our country today, which no politician has the guts to ever ask.
Since the massacre on Sunday night, we’ve had a whole week of endless news coverage with that question ever being asked, or the possibility of further Muslim integration ever being suggested. Quite the opposite, Church and State have run from postulating any possible solutions, or in most cases from even acknowledging that there is a problem.
The week started the way it continued with the BBC’s Thought for the Day, which turned out to contain no thoughts at all, but could have been useful as a face flannel.
On the 23rd as the full horror of the bombing sank in we had theologian Andrew Greystone giving us his thought, which was about the possibility of increased, ‘fear and alienation.’ He didn’t say whose. He managed not to mention Islam once. He praised Manchester as a ‘diverse and multi-faith city’ which had overcome most of its problems and was now offering a ‘new message of solidarity and hope.’
That word, ‘solidarity’ has been spouted endlessly throughout the week. He also added praise for an, ‘open hearted community,’ sounding almost joyful. What they were being open hearted about was skilfully avoided as he delighted that people ‘of all faiths and none,’ another trope regularly trotted out, had come together in a ‘narrative of community.’ One could only hope for more bombing in town centres for all the good it obviously does.
We also heard from David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester no less. He said it was ‘important not to let suspicion divide us.’ He didn’t say of whom, or of what, or who ‘us’ are. He brought up those of ‘all faiths and none’ again, they are always around, and the importance of making sure no one was vilified for what had happened. He also mentioned that ‘trolls’ had been out early making mischief, pointing the finger, he didn’t say at whom, but that they were a ‘very tiny minority and the ones we need to isolate.’
I think that was a reference to trolls, he didn’t mention any group specifically so it became a bit confusing. The following day he held hands with an imam, so it can’t have been Muslims he was talking about.
The following day, a flannel for the day was wiped over us by the Rev Michael Banner, Dean of Chapel from Trinity College, Cambridge. He talked about peace in the most abstract terms, calling for a ‘shared commitment to the good of all.’
Anyone visiting from another planet would have been unable to determine whether the recent event had been bad or good, and would certainly have no idea who had committed the crime, quite the opposite. Throughout the week, there have been yards of descriptions of the atrocity, interviews with young people who were there, visits to mosques, interviews with worried Muslims and people gathered in the centre of Manchester. As far as I know, no reporter has ventured into the suburbs or council estates of that city, or visited any white working class people of all faiths and probably none, in their pubs expressing their unvarnished opinion of recent events; sad because they are probably the only group willing to suggest why suicide bombing and random attacks in our cities have started, and how it might be prevented.
By midweek it was clear that the BBC and some prominent public figures were in firm denial that an Islamic terrorist attack had happened. On Wednesday, a BBC reporter told us that the killer might not have been radicalised. ‘We don’t yet know,’ he said, despite 22 dead and Isis claiming responsibility.
Then we heard the dreaded word ‘Prevent’, the Government’s controversial strategy to prevent radicalisation among the young, which has obviously failed. Mrs May said that if she wins the election she will pour more money into it, while Andy Burnham, the new mayor of Manchester who is now in charge of that city’s police, who has previously called the scheme, ‘toxic,’ declared that he only wanted a Prevent policy which was, ‘palatable to all communities.’
That meant he still didn’t want any such strategy at all, as many Muslims don’t like it. He went on astonishingly to tell the BBC that he has no belief in the ‘concept of Islamic terrorism.’ For him it just doesn’t exist. He echoed a popular Left wing belief that there are no Muslim terrorists only individual mad people, such as the man who killed MP Jo Cox, unconnected by any over-arching ideology. If the Alt-right have only lone nutters then so does Islam.
Again I was back in the 1970s, a radical teenager, keenly plugged into left-wing politics, but I don’t remember anyone ever saying that the IRA did not exist as a body, only as lone loonies planting bombs and shooting soldiers because they were mentally ill, unconnected to each other.
General Sir John Hackett once told me in an interview that Ireland didn’t exist; it was just a ‘dirty mark on a map,’ he said with utter contempt, but I don’t think that even he would have denied that Irish Republicanism had found some expression in a violent paramilitary group.
The Left, including yummy mummies bringing up their snowflake children, is increasingly performing astonishing contortions in its determination to deny that there is any threat to us from Islam and in particular home grown Muslims.
Instead of asking about that, all week the BBC has attempted to create an image of Manchester as a utopia of big hugs and infinite charity. There has been wider talk about reasons for the attack, suggesting that UK foreign policy in Libya was to blame. Four days on, the word ‘integration’ has yet to be mentioned. That would mean facing up to the issue of Islamic separatism, their desire for a Caliphate in the West, and the yawning divisions that now exist in many British towns, including Manchester.
Is there any way to stop British Muslims carrying out terrorist attacks? We are not allowed to ask. Such questions are forbidden, as like modern fourteen-year-olds we have to be protected as much as possible from harsh reality.