After Manchester: Anger and Courage

There isn’t much that is more frustrating than the desperate scrambling, post the latest Islamist terrorist attack, for commentators and social media buffs to start their preemptive chastising of members of the public that dare to be pissed off about it. No sooner has the initial shock worn off, then the apologism begins.

News coverage descriptions of the perpetrator mention his nationality and his sporting pastime but not the ideology that drove him to detonate a bomb that killed 22 young people and himself.  Columns tell us that  love and resistance is the answer, and everyone who disagrees is a hateful troll. Being angry and hating the Manchester bombing is ‘exactly the aim of terror.’ ‘Not all Muslims’ they tell us as though we are stupid. I’m fairly certain that most people already know that ‘not all Muslims’ are terrorist bombers and yet we have to be reminded at every opportunity.

These kneejerk and patronising admonishments are disturbing because the swiftness with which they are deployed. People have no time to be shocked and angry, they are expected to segue immediately into understanding and pacifist attitudes. If they don’t, if they express rage, or disgust they must be victims of  ‘brainwashing’ by Islamophobic propaganda. Rage is seen as inappropriate and something that must be suppressed as soon as possible. But anger is a normal reaction to such an atrocity, and healthy too. In the words of St Augustine, ‘Hope has two beautiful daughters: Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.’

The irony is that this accusation of Islamophobia is part of the problem and part of the reason for the ‘rage’. Reasonable people who see we have a problem and believe that it is caused by a radical and extreme version of Islam feel frustrated and preempted by accusations that they are tarring all Muslims with the same brush when they try and express their concerns.

They feel frustrated by wishy-washy calls for ‘no borders’ and ‘coexisting’ by protected celebrities like Katy Perry, because they feel like it is avoiding the matter at hand and this frustration leads to people calling her a stupid idiot. It isn’t Islamophobia to feel this way, if anything, shoving the accusation of Islamophobia down people’s throats at the slightest suggestion they are linking terrorism and Islam is what may lead to violent backlash against innocent Muslims.

We are told that it is Islamophobic propaganda that makes people angry and resentful about terrorist attacks, when really we should be blaming ourselves for them. That falling refrigerators kill more people than terrorism. Well so what if they do? Terrorism isn’t unavoidably random, it is a premeditated act of destruction designed to cause as much fear, pain and suffering as possible and we are right to be angry about it.

I don’t believe that most people are brainwashed by Islamophobic propaganda. I believe they see what is happening and come to their own conclusions. People want to talk about solutions (whatever they may be) and they don’t want to tip-toe around the Islam connection just in case Muslims feel threatened or intimidated by criticisms of fundamentalist adherents to their religion. How patronising to suggest that Muslims cannot bear scrutiny of Islam the same way that members of every other religion do.

If you get angry and hateful after witnessing a terrorist attack, you’re not ‘looking for something to hate and fear’ you are actually hating and fearing the fact that people who live in your community can and will commit such an act. You want to know why, you want to prevent it from happening again and you don’t want any aspects of it off the table for discussion. It isn’t wrong feel this way and it isn’t wrong to talk about the obvious common denominator, that is fundamentalist interpretations of the Islamic faith. What is wrong though, is being so full of resentment and twisted ideology, that you will purposefully go out and blow innocent people to smithereens. That is the problem, not the reaction to it.

The other side of the coin of course is that telling a group that they are constantly at threat of Islamophobia from the majority of their fellow citizens doesn’t exactly foster feelings of trust and acceptance does it? It may have a lot to do with their feelings of disenfranchisement or resentment. The bomber’s own sister has suggested that he was motivated by a desire for revenge for the poor treatment that Muslims have endured in the UK and Syria. The same UK that opened its arms up to his parents and their young children and gave them refuge.

It’s not being ‘Islamophobic’ to question why it is that Muslims in western countries are being radicalised and to wonder what aspects of the religion are being used to justify acts of violent revenge on their western fellow citizens. Ex-muslims who campaign for Islamic reform are undermined by the push to conflate anger and frustration about Islamic extremism with a hate for all Muslims. And if reformers of Islam are undermined because we are too squeamish to criticise a religion, then we all have to live with the consequences.

Mancunians gathered in St Ann’s square for a memorial service on Thursday spontaneously broke into song after one minute of silence, singing Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. Does this sound like the actions of a rabid anti-Muslim mob champing at the bit to take out their Islamophobia on ‘all Muslims’ at the first opportunity? Ordinary people deserve the benefit of the doubt.

This article was also published by The Spectator Australia, 26th May 2017. 

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