Manchester, The Fanatical, and Blowback

(TFC – The Manchester attack fallout is commencing. World leaders jointly announce their denunciation of this terror attack and citizens cooperatively express horror, anger, sadness and empathy for the victims. This horrific attack was a suicide bomber detonating himself at an Ariana Grande concert. Killing 22 people and injuring much more, the victims were mostly children.   What we saw in the media coverage of the attack was a blitz of footage and stories about the attack, intelligence analysts, former generals, TV pundits and personalities, and security experts. All took their turns providing expert commentary, opinion, and in-depth analysis. It was confirmed that Salman Abedi was the suicide bomber. ISIS soon took credit for the attack. Salman Abedi’s story is a terrible one. His story not only involves ISIS but Al Qaeda as well. As reported so far, it is a disparaging and sad tale, a youth dispossessed and disconnected.   The news media showed us in depth as they humanized the victims. Stories about the lives lost and injured. Ones made up of school, music likes, names of the family and where they are from. Reports about how emergency workers extended themselves in difficult and stressful times. These reports also included citizens going beyond expectations, a homeless man running to the scene to help, taxi drivers getting people home safe, and citizens opening their doors to give shelter to those that hadn’t found their family yet. The news agencies went full steam ahead to make sure we knew these names and how this attack so viciously affected them. And we should know them.   We should know their stories. By doing so it allows us to understand in a greater context, violence, and how and why it is directed and whom it is directed at. We should also know about the perpetrator(s) and the committer of the violence. Motive and ideology help us to comprehend the why and help move towards solutions to prevent violence from happening in the first place.   What we experience however is failingly one-sided. While we, now routinely, grieve for victims of terror attacks in the West, Europe, UK, and North America. We rarely, if ever, grieve for victims in other parts of the world. We may only ever learn about those victims if they are at the hands of who perpetrated similar attacks against us. This becomes powerful storytelling and works to ensure obedience in creating and following official policy. Even rarer still, is that we almost exclusively never know the victims if it is a result of our violence. Intentions aside.   In an article written by Mark Mackinnon for the Globe and Mail, he begins by describing the scene of the Manchester attack and how accustomed and quick those familiarizations arrive and have become. “The scenes, by now, are all too familiar.” he writes “The lines of police tape strung around the centre of a Western city. The soldiers walking the streets in the wake of a gruesome attack on the West, on us.   The Twitter hashtags come fast and memorable: #ManchesterUnite, #JeSuisCharlie, #BostonStrong, #OttawaStrong.”   We receive news at a lightening fast pace; we also take part in it and express platitudes at a lightening fast pace. Then, quickly move on. Predictably awaiting the next event, only ours, however. We have hashtags, profile filters, and ready-made symbols to express our grief and condolences, yet we don’t understand the irony of how profoundly warped this relationship is. We condemn violence, as we should, but we don’t condemn all violence equally. Our symbols are for the victims of our enemies, not our victims. Some victims are more worthy than others to memorialized. Mark Mackinnon’s article masterfully describes “The Forever War”. How violence recycles itself and relies on the participating parties to go without logic and empathy in order to not only nullify and erase their victim’s humanity but also their enemies. Mackinnon explains, “After the Manchester bombing, British Prime Minister Theresa May gave a speech little different from the ones ex-French President François Hollande gave after each of the Paris and Nice attacks, or from the one that Mr. Bush delivered after the World Trade Center was felled in 2001. Salman Abedi, Ms. May declared, was “evil,” “hateful” and “depraved.”   ‘The spirit of Manchester – and the spirit of Britain – is far mightier than the sick plots of depraved terrorists,’ she declared after a meeting of her security cabinet. ‘That is why the terrorists will never win, and we will prevail.’   Denying the terrorists any ideology or motivation has the advantage of reducing them to monsters in the eyes of the public. Monsters, understandably, must be killed, not negotiated with.” (Emphasis mine)   The fanatical jihadi warriors that rose up out of the ashes of a US-led disemboweled and cratered Iraq to form the Islamic State are described to us as infinite, vague, and dehumanized monsters, who are “evil”, “depraved”, and “hateful”. Print news guarantees the most bombastic headlines about their attacks. Prime time cable outlets drill inescapable equally intense headlines. Skillful repetition. We are now inured to these headlines and have slogans and quips that we exchange around the water cooler or copy machine at work, oblivious. This has a compelling and deep-seated effect on our psyche. It commodifies our rage and grief. They attack us. We are victims, and we are undeserving of such unethical and hysterical violence. They are “evil”, “crazy” and above all, are simply “fanatics”.   This encircles our intertwining story. Endless revenge and endless violence. Turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our leaders work tirelessly to assure us we’ll be kept safe, from what US President Donald Trump called, “evil losers in life”. We must act; we must strike swiftly, and barbarously. Retaliation becomes policy.   The Independent wrote, “British intelligence agency MI5 was reportedly warned by its US counterpart that Salman Abedi was planning an attack on UK soil, three months before he blew himself up”. With knowledge of Abedi being a potential threat, British PM Theresa May was acting Home Secretary and overseeing MI5 at the time, people are looking for answers. Why was an individual, known to authorities, not intercepted? MI5 have faced increased budget cuts.   Muddassar Ahmed wrote in a separate Independent article, and noted this, “Let it not be said that Muslims didn’t cooperate with the authorities to report Abedi. Abedi flew a black Jihadi flag out of his window in Manchester. He was banned from his mosque. His Imam reported him. His family reported him. His friends reported him. He wasn’t a lone wolf – he was a known wolf.” If we are to uncover Salman Abedi’s message, we must have the courage to ask why. We must also be ready for the answer. It may not be something we are prepared for or agree with. What helped Abedi to take this violent and depraved path? What was it that shaped his thoughts and directed his rage? Quoted in a Guardian story, Gareth Stansfield, professor of Middle East politics at Exeter University, said “Abedi appeared typical of many second-generation migrants drawn to Islamist groups. ‘It’s the classic thing of being dispossessed, of having no roots. They see the perceived immorality of the west around them and these seeds are planted and become extremely toxic and poisonous.’”   The Guardian further wrote, “Salman Abedi’s decision to embrace Isis may have been triggered by his experiences abroad. French intelligence suggests he was one of some 3,500 Libyans who went to Syria to fight. This has been played down by British intelligence but Abedi’s sister, Jomana, told the Wall Street Journal that he had been angered by what was happening in Syria.   ‘I think he saw children – Muslim children – dying everywhere, and wanted revenge. He saw the explosives America drops on children in Syria, and he wanted revenge. Whether he got that is between him and God.’”   No one wants to know why they hate us, we’ve been told why. As George Bush announced in 2001, “They hate us for our freedoms”, and that has been good enough for us. Thus far.   Abedi’s story is now part of a larger one, one that involves all of us. His victims and ours.   A New York Times report citing Airwars reported, “The military recently confirmed that American-led airstrikes had been responsible for at least 352 civilian deaths since the start of the war against the Islamic State. But Airwars estimated that the total was eight times higher. The group found that at least 3,100 civilians were killed in American-led airstrikes from August 2014 to March 2017.”   The US government conventionally downplays and misrepresents casualty figures. However what is even more alarming, is that “the United States will in the future no longer confirm its own responsibility for specific civilian casualty incidents.” The move to increase secrecy will further agonize victim’s families who seek what little justice they can from these strikes. Despite what confirmation and evidence are presented to the US or its coalition partners, often no one admits responsibility.  

Image Source: Nicolas Raymond, Flickr, Creative Commons
UK Grunge Flag
Grunge textured flag of the United Kingdom on vintage paper

Western leaders and pundits easily denounce our enemies attacks and what effects they will undoubtedly have, particularly Russia. Mehdi Hassan’s 2015 article notes David Cameron saying, “Russia’s actions [in Syria] would lead to further radicalisation and terrorism.” He also went to describe former US defense secretary Ashton Carter warning “This will have consequences for Russia itself, which is rightly fearful of attacks. In coming days, the Russians will begin to suffer from casualties.” Hasan then described what the Telegraphs Janet Daley said on a BBC panel, referring to the crash of the Russian Metrojet airliner in Egypt on 31 October, which killed 224 civilians, as “a direct consequence of [Russia’s] involvement in Syria”, adding: “[Putin] has perhaps incited this terrorist incident on Russian civilians.” (Emphasis mine) Notice the ease, as Putin’s foreign policy would have direct and violent repercussions. This logic does not hold true to our actions, however, even from Trump. It’s simply not something you read in the Western corporate press.   So we can draw lines of consequence from foreign policy actions to attacks directed back at us. It was announced Zbigniew Brzezinski passed away, who’s own blowback has now outlived him. His bookThe Grand Chessboard’ outlined preferred US geostrategic policy – US hegemony, and he was able to influence US foreign policy as the United States National Security Advisor during 1977–81 under the administration of President Jimmy Carter. The New York Times wrote “He supported billions in military aid for Islamic militants fighting invading Soviet troops in Afghanistan. He tacitly encouraged China to continue backing the murderous regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia, lest the Soviet-backed Vietnamese take over that country.” We are currently still experiencing a result of these policies. We rarely, if ever, arm and fund “moderates”. Often and inexplicably, it’s the rule and not the exception – we fund and arm “extremists”.   We are now approaching almost 17 years of occupation in Afghanistan. While the US military is attempting to convince Trump that the US should increase troop levels, not decrease them. The war has now bridged to a third US president, who may or may not be intent on expanding it. A feat unprecedented in US history. Prior to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, Western intelligence agencies warned of the dangers of blowback. They specifically cited attacks like Abedis. In the month prior to the invasion, the Blair government was given a white paper, titled “International Terrorism: War With Iraq.” This is known because of the Chilcot Report, a seven-year long investigation of the Iraq war. The Intercepts Jon Schwartz wrote how the white paper started: “The threat from Al Qaida will increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq. They will target Coalition forces and other Western interests in the Middle East. Attacks against Western interests elsewhere are also likely, especially in the US and UK, for maximum impact. The worldwide threat from other Islamist terrorist groups and individuals will increase significantly.”   It later ended with “Al Qaida and associated groups will continue to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat will be heightened by military action against Iraq. The broader threat from Islamist terrorists will also increase in the event of war, reflecting intensified anti-US/anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world, including among Muslim communities in the West. [emphasis added in both cases]”   Fanaticism doesn’t end with radical Jihadis. The militarism we so industriously create and depend upon, breeds its own brand. One where brave warriors are lionized in public for committing atrocious acts, sacrificed and committing themselves to grandiose causes. Intentions. Nationalism and a marching beat of slogans and propaganda propel us towards some vague and distant goal. Liberation, freedom, democracy, all delivered in a brutal and shocking canon.   There is a cost.   Trump’s first military raid on January 29, resulted in the massacre of up to 25 women and children. The raid was carried out by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). NBC News reported an unnamed senior military official who said, “Almost everything went wrong.” A Navy SEAL was killed during the raid, Chief Petty Officer Ryan Owens. One of the children killed, who was also an American, was Nawar al-Awlaki. She was eight years old. Corporate press hardly reported her death, and how the US had assassinated one of it’s own citizens.   Her father was Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen and prominent Islamic cleric who became an Al Qaeda propagandist. He was assassinated in Yemen by a drone strike on April 2011; President Obama authorized the killing – without trial. His son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was assassinated two weeks later, also a US citizen and without trial. Abdulrahman had no ties to Al Qaeda. He was 16.   On May 23 it was revealed another SEAL raid was launched. On that raid, five civilians were killed. Of which was a 70-year-old partially blind man. Reprieve, an international human right organization reported, “None of them were fighting for al-Qaeda. One of those killed, Nasser al-Adhal, was around 70 years of age and partially blind. According to witnesses, he was shot when he tried to greet the Navy Seals, mistaking them for guests arriving in the village.”   On May 27, a suicide bomb attack killed 18 people in Eastern Afghanistan. The victims were mostly civilians, including two children. There are no memoirs or stories about their families and lives. Nothing about how they lived to chase ball in the streets, or banter with friends about what happened in school that day. We won’t hear about what they wanted to be when grew up or how their families mourn their loss. We also will not hear about the emergency crews that rushed to the scene, or the neighborhood banding together to clear the wreckage and search for bodies. There are no hashtags or profile filters for Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or Yemen.   The stark contrast between these recent and vicious atrocities remains. The children brutally cut down by a suicide attack exiting a concert and civilians murdered by our special operations forces are equally horrendous. We are not told their names or their stories, however. As long as we are having a one-sided conversation, we cannot begin to understand how the intersectionality of foreign policy, religious ideology, culture, politics, economics, and militarism all combine and produce such barbarous consequences.   Their names of the murdered in the May 23 Yemen raid are: Nasser Ali Mahdi Al-Adhal, Al-Ghader Saleh Salem Al-Adhal, Saleh Al-Taffaf, Yasser Al-Taffaf Al-Adhel, and Shebreen Saeed Salem Al-Adhal. The world should know their names too.