Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Following Manchester

The Manchester bomb attack challenges the West to unite against terrorism in a time of unprecedented dynamics riving it apart, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Our world teems with a multitude of events rushing at us in rapid succession, keeping the media breathless in the race to keep up. The sounds, images and printed and electronic words are like convex mirrors that magnify everything, exacting some remarkable capacities from the human intellect in order to put things in their proper perspective. More amazingly, the “day after” every event seems as though it has no connection with what happened the day before. The developments of the new day, and sometimes even the first hour, shove previous events aside and consign them to some remote space. In a sense, “history” begins extremely early. Writers and researchers, therefore, need new types of analytical tools in order to grasp what is going on. Fortunately, the computer and Google have greatly enlarged scholastic memory and rendered the impossible possible. Events that appear unrelated may, upon closer study, shed light on many of the core problems in our world today.

On 26 May, a terrorist attack rocked Manchester, killing 22 people, including children and wounding may others. The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, who blew himself up in the middle of a rock concert.

At first glance, the terrorist attack seemed a repetition of so many previous attacks. But repetition should not lead us to minimise it or overlook its diverse dimensions and repercussions. Now, a week after the incident, we know quite a lot about the perpetrator, his origins, affiliations and history, and we have learned a bit from the analysis of the shortcomings in handling the information that had been available beforehand about the suicide bomber. A semi-public revision process is going on. It is exposing the fallacy of the commonly held “root causes” theory which holds that the source of terrorism is to be found in economic, social and political (despotism and oppression) circumstances. Now analysts are attaching greater importance to “ideology”, “indoctrination” and ideas, in general.

Salman Abedi was from a Libyan family. That family had been victim to the adversity and repression of the Gaddafi regime. But Salman was born in the UK. He was educated in British schools, lived in British neighbourhoods, attended a British university and experienced British democracy. Horizons were open to him. He had choices. He could have become, if he had wanted, a famous football player for Manchester United or, if he preferred, for Manchester City. He could have become a member of the Conservative Party, or a progressive in another party. He could have become an MP or a surgeon who, in spite of his origins, might one day have been knighted and dubbed “Sir”. But all such prospects were ruined as a consequence of the brainwashing processes of latter-day Kharijites: The “Daeshites” who tailor ancient extremist doctrines to suit 21st century contexts so that they could make young men kill in a concert attended by a lot of children.

The Manchester terrorist bombing took place while Britain was in the midst of the campaigns for the general election. Prime Minister Theresa May called for these early elections; there was nothing to compel her to do so since she already had a sufficient popularity and parliamentary majority behind her. Now the terrorist attack will have a political impact on the elections and on the Conservative Party to which she belongs since she was the prime minister when the attack occurred and home secretary before the current government was formed. Not that this necessarily means that she will lose now. After all, the focus of the elections is not terrorism but rather Britain’s exit from the EU.

Also, Britain responded to the incident within the framework of a democratic system governed by the rule of law and established political traditions that are steadfastly observed: Up to now, at least, state-of-emergency measures and martial law have been averted. As complicated as the British political system may appear, with all its traditions and long history, it is as simple as its people perceive it to be. Put another way: Things happen and they are dealt with in accordance with certain established rules. The government assumed the responsibility for what occurred, for the lessons learned and for implementing the required reforms. This was essential.

The Manchester attack also took place while Britain was preparing for three European meetings: The meeting of NATO leaders, the meeting of EU leaders with Donald Trump and the G7 meeting. Britain received support from all. Also, in spite of London’s reproach against the Trump administration for The New York Times leaks of confidential information on the investigation into the Manchester attack, the current levels of security coordination with NATO countries and EU countries will continue and, most likely, increase. Still, the question remains as to how allies can sustain the levels of cooperation to which they had grown accustomed, especially in the face of looming dangers, when an important NATO member keeps sending out messages regarding its desire to go it alone, on top of which it appears unable to contain leaks of classified information.

One way or another, the Manchester attack was governed by changes in the international order: Trump’s election and its aftermath; Brexit; other European polls that worked to sustain the EU; Washington’s drift towards and drift away from Moscow; the US’s return to the Middle East in Riyadh and Syria/Iraq; tension in the South China Sea and the crisis with North Korea. Theresa May, in the UK, has rekindled the US-British alliance and it looks like she is prioritising the transatlantic bond over the European one. However, she still attaches importance to NATO and the need to confront Russia, as well as terrorism, which the Manchester attack made clear was still a major threat.

It is simultaneously clear that there are new realities to contend with. The US, under Trump, has adopted a new and unfamiliar attitude towards Europe and NATO. True, Trump has declared his continued commitment to NATO but, in spite of all pressures, he has renounced Washington’s commitment to Article 5 of the NATO Charter, obliging all members to come to the defence of any member subject to an attack by a hostile army, an article that was invoked following the 11 September attacks in Washington, DC and New York. Moreover, Trump also announced that the US was pulling out of the Paris climate accord that NATO countries had finally achieved after having won the approval of China and India.

The Manchester bombing has made unity of the Western world against terrorism more necessary than ever before. But how is this possible when the US may prolong its stay in Afghanistan, when Washington is demanding payment for leading NATO, and when Merkel says that Europe can no longer rely on the US? The UK and Theresa May’s ability to answer these questions may be inspired by the people who died in Manchester.


The writer is chairman of the board, CEO, and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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