Twelve years ago, on July 7, 2005, central London was the victim of four major synchronized bomb attacks on its transport system by Islamist extremists. At the time, the fact they were homegrown and from Yorkshire shocked many who were unfamiliar with the underlying trends in certain communities.
The attack in Manchester on Monday was the first mass-fatality bombing since then in Britain. This time, it would have been a surprise if the perpetrator was not born and raised here.
The Westminster attack on March 22 was by a lone attacker, with little evidence of much support. The sophistication and power of the bomb in Manchester demonstrate technical abilities way beyond that expected of a 22-year-old, leading security services to believe the bomb-maker is still at large and a threat. They believe there is a “network” involved.
The youth of the attacker Salman Abedi is an increasing feature of Daesh terrorists, as is his being a cannabis-smoking, alcohol-drinking dropout who may have been part of the local gang culture. This is part of a trend where Daesh extremists are not very observant and come from criminal backgrounds. It was also no surprise that he was a second-generation immigrant. His family came from Libya.
The Westminster attack was on the heart of Britain’s political power, the Manchester attack at the heart of its cultural hub, both equally loathed by the likes of Daesh and Al-Qaeda. The timing may well have been political given that it was in the midst of a general election campaign.
The other massive change since 2005 is the response of British-Muslim communities. Back then, in the era of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, they were neither prepared for the bombers being British-Muslim nor for the backlash.
Many sections of these communities were in total denial that there was an issue, to the extent of believing in absurd conspiracy theories of exaggerated faux hysteria. It was comforting for many to think this was not their problem or issue.
But in 2017, Muslim communities are far more aware that there are extremists in their midst, and that silence, denial and inaction are no longer an option. It does not mean they were not appalled by the killings in London; they just found it hard to accept that one of their own could do this.
It was one of the few uplifting themes of the Manchester horror, the way the city’s entire community rallied around to help and comfort. Taxi drivers of all backgrounds and faiths rushed to help and took people to safety free of charge. People opened their homes. A British-Syrian surgeon from Homs treated many of the victims, seeing many of the same wounds he had operated on during the Syrian crisis.
Taxi drivers of all backgrounds and faiths rushed to help and took people to safety free of charge. People opened their homes. A British-Syrian surgeon from Homs treated many of the victims, seeing many of the same wounds he had operated on during the Syrian crisis.
Muslim communities raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for the victims of the attack. Moreover, the accusation that British Muslims do not report extremism to the authorities did not apply here as many British Libyans had warned the authorities of radicalization in south Manchester for several years.
Just possibly too, the work and efforts of British-Muslim groups is slowly paying off. Signs are beginning to show that more and more people understand that British Muslims are not the problem and are just as likely to be victims, and certainly far from being on the side of the perpetrators.
But as ever, while the dominant themes were of togetherness, unity and resilience, racists and bigots leapt into action. One leading columnist called for a state of emergency and internment camps. Quite who she thought would be put in them, who knows? Another lowlife called for a “final solution.” A mosque in Oldham was attacked, and no doubt further hate crimes will follow.
US President Donald Trump, famed for his hostile comments against Muslims in his election campaign, did in his speech in Riyadh highlight one key truth that has still failed to register in much of the West. “Some estimates hold that more than 95 percent of the victims of terrorism are themselves Muslim.”
Further attacks in Britain are likely. Daesh and Al-Qaeda have long plotted such atrocities against a nation that has been active militarily in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. Of the major Western powers, it may rank second only to the US in terms of being loathed.
But Britain has survived much worse, so its society is far from being cowed or broken. It may surprise many that between 2000 and 2015, only 90 people were killed in the UK in terrorist attacks. This compares to 1,094 deaths in the 15-year period before that, between 1985 and 1999, and 2,211 between 1970 and 1984, much of it because of Irish-related terrorism. The country did not panic then, nor will it do so now. This resolve is vital in facing the likely wave of attacks over the next decade.
• Chris Doyle is the director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first-class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic studies at Exeter University. He has organized and accompanied numerous British parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. He tweets @Doylech.