A View on the Atrocity in Manchester

Manchester Town Hall

I was shocked and dismayed at the bombing of Manchester. Suicide bomber Salman Abedi killed 22 - including many children - and injured nearly 100 at an Ariana Grande concert in the Manchester Arena on Monday 22nd May 2017. As at Thursday 25th May the injuries are in total, 116 people who were admitted to hospital in relation to the attack, NHS England said. Seventy-five people are still being treated in eight hospitals, including 23 patients who are in critical care.

I used to live near Manchester – in a Cheshire town called Runcorn which is 25 miles distant from England’s third largest city. I went there for shopping, to use the city’s impressive library and to football (Maine Road, former home of Manchester City, the stadium was demolished in 2004) and to the Royal Exchange Theatre there.

The loss of so many young lives is indeed tragic and speaking in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 25th May Scottish Green Party co-convenor Patrick Harvie spoke of the anguish of the family of the young girl 14-year-old Eilidh MacLeod from Barra (an island in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland) who died in the Manchester bombing. He also reminded the assembly of the 34 migrants many of them children who lost their lives in the Mediterranean on Wednesday 24th May while trying to flee from Libya to Europe.  He said that all human life was precious.

Suppose there was a minute’s silence for the victims of the attack on Iraq in 2003?

A national minute's silence was held at 1100 on Thursday morning 25th May to remember the victims of the Manchester attack.  Greater Manchester mayor and former Labour MP Andy Burnham was among the crowd who observed the silence in St Ann's Square at 11:00 BST. The minute’s silence was observed in Scotland at the Scottish Parliament, on the isle of Barra, in Lerwick in the Shetland islands north of Scotland, in Glasgow Central Station and many other locations.

It is so sad that all those children died.  At the same time, we should never forget the half million children who died as a result of the decade long Iraq sanctions – a price that then US Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright infamously said was 'worth it'.

Suppose there was a minute’s silence for the victims of the attack on Iraq in 2003 and the million victims of the decade long US led embargo against Iraq? If one minute was allotted to each victim the silence would last for years, perhaps decades.

Commentary along the lines of it being blowback from Western foreign policy may seem insensitive just now but it is a factor which will have to be looked at.

What motivates people like Salman Abedi to commit the crimes they do?

Patrick Cockburn of The Independent writes of the inspiration behind these suicide attacks: 'The ultimate inspiration for such people is Wahhabism, the puritanical, fanatical and regressive type of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia, whose ideology is close to that of al-Qaeda and Isis. This is an exclusive creed, intolerant of all who disagree with it such as secular liberals, members of other Muslim communities such as the Shia or women resisting their chattel-like status.'

US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia showed where his priorities lie. He talked of Iran as being the cause of terrorism while ignoring the savage Saudi bombing of Yemen and their support for ISIS and Al Qaeda. Remember that 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11th 2001 were Saudi nationals. While in Israel Trump did not even mention the possibility of a Palestinian State.  Today (Thursday 25th May) Trump is in Brussels, fresh from his visit to Pope Francis at the Vatican. Mr Trump will end his tour on the Italian island of Sicily at the G7 summit.

The BBC website headline was 'Trump in Brussels for 'tough' NATO talks amid protests'. At least the huge protests against Trump were acknowledged.

Tara McKelvey of the BBC writes of Donald Trump: 'He's offered up odd, disjointed praise: "Belgium is a beautiful city," he once said (he's also called Brussels "a hellhole"). He seems to be fond of Scotland, the place where his mother was born. Still he's not exactly embraced local customs.

Last year he visited a Scottish town with pubs where, as one of his travelling companions told me, "They served rabbit." So they drove to a town about 25 miles away with a McDonald's. It was another sign that he doesn't embrace European traditions and - sometimes at least - views them with distaste.'

Kerry Anne Mendoza of The Canary writes: 'For the people of Manchester, this is not just a story. It is their life, being ripped apart. What they don’t need is media vultures literally capitalising on their grief. They need privacy, compassion, and time to deal with the unimaginable circumstances in which they find themselves. And yet again, The Sun (A British tabloid newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch) is refusing to; dishonouring the victims of a disaster.

But Manchester and Liverpool show there is something each of us can do to help. We can ensure we don’t reward irresponsible hackery with our attention, or our money."

Josh Holroyd of Socialist Appeal writes: 'Many “world leaders” have already come out with messages of support. Speaking from Bethlehem as part of his tour of the region, Donald Trump has also condemned the attack, speaking of an “evil ideology [which] must be completely obliterated”. Such words are hollow in the extreme from a man who only days ago signed a $110 billion deal to sell arms to the Saudi state, the centre and source of the Wahhabist ideology which forms the common creed of such groups as ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.'

How can this evil be obliterated when our leaders gladly fuel and participate in its proliferation across the Middle East and the world? We would ask this question of Theresa May, whose government has taken part in the carnage in Yemen and Syria whilst signing her own multi-billion arms deal with the Saudi state. It is clear that for the likes of May and Trump, when it comes to making money, the interests of peace and stability come a poor second. The Tories’ vision for post-Brexit Britain is that of a global arms trader. Their vision for the world must therefore be one of further devastation abroad and attacks on innocent civilians at home. '

Josh Holroyd continues: 'When thousands are killed in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, or when countries such as Pakistan are wracked with suicide bombings on an almost daily basis, the leaders of the West have nothing to say, and even celebrate the carnage (as in the case of Mosul, for example). Clearly, in the minds of hypocrites like Trump and May, the lives of those killed by the imperialism and its allies are not at all equal to those killed by terrorists in their own countries.

In truth, the terrorists and the right-wing always play into each other's hands. As in the aftermath of the disgusting attacks in Paris and Nice, governments use such attacks as a pretext for increased snooping, discrimination and oppression against Muslim workers in particular, while rabid bigots feel entitled to spew their toxic bile out into the public domain. In turn, this ramping up of hateful rhetoric and oppressive measures against ordinary Muslims only serves to fuel the rage and resentment upon which groups like ISIS depend.'

Robert Fisk of The Independent writes: 'Handing more power to the Pentagon – about the most perilous act of any US President – means that Defence Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis is now encouraging the head-chopping Saudis to bomb Yemen – adding even more American intelligence “assets” to this criminal enterprise — and encouraging the Gulf Arabs’ delusional idea that Iran wants to conquer the Arab world. “Everywhere you look,” Mattis told his Saudi hosts this month, “if there’s trouble in the region, you find Iran.”'

Robert Fisk continues: 'So within a few minutes of landing at Tel Aviv airport – part of whose runways actually lies on land legally owned by Palestinian Arabs 60 years ago – the Trump speechwriters (for Trump surely cannot write this stuff) were churning out once more their hatred of Iran, of Iran’s “terror”, of Iran’s plots, of Iran’s continuing desire to make a nuclear bomb. And all this when Iran has just re-elected a sane president who actually signed the nuclear agreement two years ago that substantially reduced Iran’s strategic threat to Israel, the Arabs and America.'

Let’s not forget Afghanistan whose people have endured countless invasions and occupations over the centuries. They are human beings, flesh and blood and not just pawns in some 'great game' as described by historians to describe a political and diplomatic confrontation that existed for most of the nineteenth century between Britain and Russia over Afghanistan and neighbouring territories.

From Ruchi Kumar, an Indian journalist based in Afghanistan, via 'Truthout': 'In its annual report for 2016, UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) documented 11,418 civilian casualties, an increase over previous years. Children accounted for at least 30 percent of these casualties. The report noted 3,512 child casualties (923 deaths and 2,589 injuries), a 24 percent increase from 2015, and the highest number of child casualties recorded by UNAMA in any single year. '

The elephant in the room is the “war on terror”

The editorial of the left wing 'Morning Star' newspaper on Thursday 25th May puts it rather well when it says: 'Clearly no society can simply carry on as normal in the face of a mortal threat to the lives of its people. Attacks must be investigated and measures taken to prevent them happening again. But this is very different from suspending our critical judgement of the response of the authorities.

“Something must be done” is not a policy and our recent history is littered with examples of responses which have caused enormous harm — and left us far less safe than before.

The elephant in the room is of course the “war on terror,” launched by George W Bush and Tony Blair in the aftermath of the September 11 2001 attacks on New York’s Twin Towers.

This open-ended conflict has proved more counterproductive even than the much-ridiculed “war on drugs,” which has so dismally failed to reduce the illegal smuggling of narcotics or the lethal violence that awful trade inflicts on civilians in producer countries.'

The Morning Star editorial continues: ' Studies by the Open Society Justice Initiative and Rights Watch UK have also slammed the British government’s Prevent programme as counterproductive — allowing widespread discrimination and abuse which can alienate entire communities.

And all such projects to counter “radical Islam” ring hollow when Britain maintains its sycophantic alliance with the Wahhabi regime in Saudi Arabia, where death is the penalty for atheism and where the government sponsors and promotes murderous, intolerant fanaticism on a global scale.

Suspending campaigning is an inadequate answer to Monday’s terrible events because we do have a choice on June 8 that could make a difference.'

We should grieve for the victims of terrorism in Westminster and Manchester and at the same time grieve for the millions of victims of the terrorism that dare not speak its name because it is our terrorism.

There needs to be a 'draining of the swamp' meaning a radical rethinking of western foreign policy. There should be a just solution to the Palestinian question, in particular an end to the inhumane blockade of Gaza.

As film maker Michael Moore commented after the 9/11 attacks and this must have taken some nerve, "The policy of keeping the rest of the world in absolute poverty so that we in the west can have nice running shoes is a mistake."

As Professor Noam Chomsky wrote in 2002: “Twenty years ago, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Yehoshaphat Harkabi, also a leading Arabist, made a point that still holds true. "To offer an honourable solution to the Palestinians respecting their right to self-determination: that is the solution of the problem of terrorism," he said. "When the swamp disappears, there will be no more mosquitoes."

Let’s stand firm with the victims of violence be it Manchester, Madrid, Moscow, Nice, Paris, Brussels, New York, London, Fallujah, Aleppo, Mosul, Palestine and indeed everywhere.

Let’s have an ethical foreign policy and drain that swamp.

Photo: Manchester Town Hall by Mark Andrew. Some rights reserved