Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Manchester

This one felt personal. I was on United flight 93 five weeks to the day before Al Qaeda hijacked it on 9/11. I've walked down the Promenade des Anglais in Nice several times. I run across Westminster Bridge regularly before work. But those terrorist attacks didn't feel personal. This was different. For the first time, I wept.

My wife and I have met many times before concerts at the exact point the explosion happened. My mum and sister walked past it last Thursday as they left a Take That concert. My eldest daughter and boyfriend live 600 metres away, and heard the explosion (and, bless them, were among the many who offered refuge to those stranded in the city centre). But more than that. Several of the dead were from places I've known well for years. The combination of the type of bomb it was, and the targeting of teenage music fans is a uniquely repulsive mix, if it's not insensitive to compare these horrors.

And then there's Manchester itself. I've no doubt that Newcastle, or Leeds, or Birmingham would have reacted just as admirably. But Manchester is my 'big city', even though I'm Cheshire born-and-bred. It's where I - we - go for some posh shopping, a good night out, and yes, to big concerts. It's our place, along with native Mancs themselves obviously, and all the other folk from Cheshire, Lancashire and beyond who flock to it.

So what? Why am I writing about it, when hundreds of thousands of other words will be written and published? Because I'm angry, that's why. And anger's only constructive if it can lead to improvement, change. I have no platform other than this, so I'm using it to say what I think needs to happen differently. Please share it if you think it has any merit.

So what do we need to do? Lots of things, but they fall into just two big buckets.

First, we need to get on the front foot in terms of preventing these incidents. That's not to suggest the security services don't do a brilliant job in preventing far more of these atrocities than actually happen - I don't know that of course, but I suspect it's true. No, what I'm talking about is doing more than just saying "we've got to carry on as normal, or they've won". Of course we have; what else are we going to do, stay at home all day? But enough of the peace, love and harmony platitudes. I'm not suggesting anyone should target Muslims; I despise the kind of people who verbally or physcially abuse random Muslims, or vandalise mosques.

However, I think we need to get a little more muscular in our responses. I'm obviously no expert, but ideas that to me seem to have some sense to them include:

- segregating the Muslim prison population between those who aren't radicalised and those who are, with solitary confinement for the most strident of the radicalisers
- checking on the messages imams in mosques are spreading to their congregation. And if that has to mean non-Muslims undertaking that activity, so be it
- looking very carefully at the overseas funding of the madrassas, particularly from the Saudis. If that risks upsetting them, again, so be it
- withdrawing the passport of anyone who leaves to fight for ISIS abroad, even if they were UK-born. No exceptions
- rigorously enforcing control orders
- banning Muslim-only faith schools
- doing whatever we can to undermine the ability of sections of the community to live wholly separate existences from the mainstream - withdrawing translation services in all but emergency circumstances for the NHS and in the legal system for example

As I write this, these things feel a bit intemperate. But as I'm writing this in France, I ask myself: if I were a member of a religion here, though I was wholly peaceful, law-abiding and integrated, would I feel any of the above list unreasonable if some extreme elements of my religion were killing and maiming indiscriminately? I'd like to think not.

Which brings me to my second bucket of things we need to do. If we were to do some or all of the above, there would undoubtedly be cries of "it's racist", "it's Islamophobic". And, I regret to say, the vast majority of our political classes are so afraid of those labels sticking, they steer clear of the muscular approach to preventing these incidents. But it's time for us to treat those accusations the same way elements of the black and gay populations have historically reacted to the choice insults thrown at them - they appropriated the words for themselves; you know the ones I'm talking about.

So yes, if you want to call me racist or Islamophobic for believing in any of the above list, fair enough; if that's your definition, I'll take it. I know there's a million miles between the idiot on the football terraces who makes gorilla noises at a black footballer and what or who I am, but I'm not going to waste my energy or be diverted by 'proving' I'm not racist. If you think I am, that's your prerogative. I'm not going to worry any more. And I am going to say these things out loud, and in public. Many of us should. I'm not giving succour to skinheaded scum. But I refuse, by not saying them, to give succour to jihadist scum.

We need to get that message across to politicians. Of course it's right for them to remind us that the vast majority of muslims have nothing to do with terrorism, and of the dangers of a backlash. Yes fine, tell us that terrorists aren't going to divide us. But for God's sake, do everything, EVERYTHING, possible to prevent another incident which results in medics having to pick nuts and bolts out of children's heads, or police having to collect body parts off the the floor of a concert hall. Stop this thing at source; make it so that MI5 don't have anything to infiltrate and thwart. And if that means you're called some unpleasant names along the way, don't fall into the trap of defending yourself - if stopping the slaughter is someone's definition of being racist, accept it, and do what you need to anyway.


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