Salman Abedi was on a man on a mission. He seemed to prepare his device in a methodical fashion, intent on killing as many young people at a concert, which he probably felt exemplified a 'western decadent lifestyle'. It is also becoming clear that there were a trail of indicators that should have flagged up this individual as someone vulnerable to violent Islamist extremism. They were missed and I have recently highlighted these missed opportunities. Abedi is therefore not unique and may young men have followed similar trajectories to this young murderer.
The last 5 years have been a turbulent time for those of us working in Tell MAMA, which supports victims of anti-Muslim hatred and which also maps, measures and monitors this phenomenon across the country. The turbulence has been caused by the sheer number of peaks and troughs around anti-Muslim hate incidents that have been reported into the national hate crime project, primarily driven by Islamist terrorist attacks within our country and beyond. This is not to marginalise the impact of far right groups and their online and offline anti-Muslim propaganda, though the reality is that the number of Islamist terrorist attacks are simply far, far higher leading to massive loss of life and injury to members of the public, when compared to far right extremism and hatred. Saying that, the latter led to the murders of Muhammed Saleem in Birmingham and Mushin Ahmed in Rotherham.
We also have to acknowledge that one of the greatest threats to community cohesion in our country in the last decade has been violent and non-violent Islamist extremism. This is a fact and the sharp rises in anti-Muslim hate incidents which correlate to these major events are systematic proof of this. Yet, there is also a wider impact of the actions of terrorists, apart from the significant loss of life and emotional and psychological damage that they inflict through their actions. Social commentators have talked about how Islamic State attempts to attack the 'grey zone' where communities engage, support, and peacefully enrich each other in society, though this analogy does not reflect the true reality of what actually happens. Terrorists are well aware that their actions will lead to some Muslims being targeted and one of their aims is to create a backlash against Muslims which further drives a number of them towards a victimisation mentality, which at its core, is what Islamist extremists prey on. This vulnerability of victimisation is one of the major gateways for them into the minds of Muslims who have been repeatedly targeted for anti-Muslim hatred and is the 'backdoor' into the minds of people who have started to feel that they are not wanted or have a future in our country. It is something that Islamist extremists pick at, a scab that they will not allow to heal, ensuring that the more they pick at it, the greater the trauma and the more vulnerable the individual becomes.
This weekend, the Times reported that there are about 32,000 Jihadis who are in the UK, according to security sources and that only between 3,000 - 3,500 can be monitored at any one point. Whatever the truth about the number, it is pretty clear that there are significant numbers of people in our country who feel alienated enough from us as a society, that they would be willing to undertake violence against us. The question therefore has to be asked. Do we really want to add to this pool of individuals by targeting people who are law abiding citizens and who happen to be Muslim?
We know that heavy handed policing, abuse and hatred against Irish Catholic communities in Northern Ireland and England at the height of the Northern Ireland conflict, led to a greater pool of young people sympathising with the IRA. This was a fact; the more young Irish Catholics felt humiliated or targeted, the more their sympathies opened up to groups which used violence against their perceived enemies. This is why we must ensure that hatred and intolerance is also targeted and challenged and that after-shock spikes in anti-Muslim hatred must be tackled, in addition to violent Islamist extremism.
Sadly, we have picked up a significant and measurable spike in anti-Muslim hate incidents in Greater Manchester and across the country. Communities have come out in solidarity with each other and against terrorism and extremism. We need to challenge extremism, break the networks of the bombers and disrupt their activities at every turn. Let us also remember that we have to ensure that we collectively tackle anti-Muslim hatred when it rears it head after major Islamist terrorist attacks. If we don't and racists and bigots carry on with their actions, they are re-enforcing the very strategy that Islamist extremists want. That of division, increased vulnerability and the manipulation of young minds and we cannot allow that to happen any more.