Years ago ‘The Guardian’ ran an interview with celebrities on the last page of its Saturday magazine and always finished with the same question – how would you like to die? The answer that I remember, the only one, was “after a long time and before my children”. I thought then that this was the best answer that could be given.
It is thus harrowing beyond words for so many parents to lose young children to an act of random terrorism. How can one reason this catastrophic event so that one might attempt to come to terms with it; to explain in even a small way to oneself what has happened and in so doing lessen the pain suffered, however little this might be?
In the finality of death many people turn to religion, to belief based on faith, which may be defined as to believe without justification, to believe in the most incredible things without any need to present argument or evidence. Of course, these are often given, but they are all ultimately irrelevant for those that believe.
Tragedy thus invites inconsolable acceptance because it is irreversible, what has happened cannot be undone no matter how inconceivable or improbable and no matter how unjustified it has been to everyone affected. Politicised religious fundamentalism can sanction the most barbaric acts while less radical religious expressions substitute consolation for comprehension for its victims.
The statement by religious fundamentalists in support of the Manchester bombing present a rationale based on killing ‘Crusaders’ but the declarations of support for it have also claimed that these ‘Crusaders’ are suffering in the same way that the children of Mosul and Raqqa have suffered. In saying this they parade admission of their own barbarity on equal terms with the hated Crusaders without a single reflection on such identification.
Within the circle of religious responses there is only moral condemnation that accepts the other-worldliness of the action, which is often comforting for those grieving from indescribable loss but is precisely useless in every other respect: because of its divorce from reality, from this world, from the reality that created the bomber, the bomb, the pain inflicted and the future possibility of its repetition, who knows how many times.
While after such tragedies general moral statements are always to the fore, and the rituals of religious observance play a prominent role, the major response is one rooted firmly in this world. From the work of the emergency services, hotels and taxi drivers helping the injured, rallies to express sadness and respect for the victims and their families; all these are the practical things that allow people to suffer with some purpose and some hope that they can continue to hold on to whatever they can of those they have lost.
However, to look beyond the immediate need to digest the shock of the attack and to focus on it as a singular event, as a way of giving due recognition to its magnitude, is often seen as to be passing too quickly over it and therefore to belittle its horror. That is why the immediate instinct is to suspend discussion of everything else, to abandon the rolling cycle of news with its discussion of politics and the election. While life must go on, it cannot go on as if nothing has happened and time is an essential aspect of doing so.
But not going on as if nothing has happened means quickly picking up the real-world nature of the bombing and determining who did it, how they did it, why they did it and whether there is anything to be done to stop it happening again. To attempt to ignore these questions and substitute general moral condemnation and police action only is an attempt to avoid reality and falls below what must be demanded by the living on behalf of the dead. It is an insult to argue that inevitable questions thrown up by mass killing are off-bounds because of some rule of decorum that benefits none of us, but conveniently shields those responsible for security from scrutiny and accountability.
Jeremy Corbyn’s speech about the Manchester bombing did no more than express his revulsion against terrorism; express his opposition to scapegoating the wider Muslim population and draw the blindingly obvious lesson that the so-called ‘war against terror’ has failed. He drew the lesson stated beforehand by Boris Johnstone, the Director General of MI5 and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee – that British foreign policy has increased the threat of terrorist attack on Britain. This is not new, is not startling and is not irrational but is expressed in the statements of the Islamic fundamentalists themselves.
Andrew Neil spent an important part of his interview with Jeremy Corbyn quoting Islamic State that it was western values that it hated, as if western imperialist intervention in Arab countries was irrelevant. Irrespective of just what exactly ‘western values’ are – food banks for the poor but palaces for royalty, colonial empire and genocidal slaughter – it is clear that unwillingness to face the foreseen and foretold consequences of intervention into Iraq and Libya etc. is itself deeply cynical and political.
Theresa May has accused Jeremy Corbyn of giving ‘excuses’ for terrorism and Boris Johnstone has accused him of attempting to’ justify’ or ‘legitimate’ terrorist attacks.
Lies, lies, lies.
To peddle such untruths in the wake of the attack demonstrates the contempt the Tories have for the lives of working people and their children who now deserve nothing more than that they hear the truth. Without it there can be no justice and no closure, if such is possible. To pass over their loss with cynical lies is to belittle their suffering with the view that this is a thing to be twisted in the cause of mendacious political calculation. The Hillsborough inquiry has been one long and agonising lesson on the need for justice and the conspiracies within the establishment that have existed to deny it.
We do not know the links between the British state’s foreign policy interventions and this particular terrorist attack. Instead we get repeated advocacy on behalf of the security services that they cannot keep tabs on every threat. Listening to interview after interview on television and radio we hear repeated again and again the same unchallenged defence of the security services by a media supposedly tasked with revealing what is happening but which instead seems more intent on seeking to hide it.
Yet the more we learn of this particular attack the more obvious it becomes that credulity is stretched to breaking point when we are called upon to accept that it is perfectly understandable why this particular threat could not have been prevented. How convenient to denounce the reasoned words of Jeremy Corbyn from a Government that sells massive quantities of arms to Saudi Arabia, the ideological inspiration of Islamic terrorism, and which has supported the same radical jihadi group in Libya that may well have carried out the attack. ‘Move along, nothing to see here’ will not wash.
We do not know the exact connections between the bombers, the groups supported by the British state in their opposition to the Gaddafi regime, and the role played by Saudi Arabia, which Theresa May has made a particular point of patronising. It is impossible for us to know the truth, and that is the problem. To point to the obvious links and connections that we do know of and to demand the truth is to open oneself up to shrill denunciations of conspiracy theory. Yet to accuse MI5 and MI6 etc. of conspiracy is like accusing publicans of selling intoxicating substances or brothel keepers of selling sex.
It is not Jeremy Corbyn who is disrespectful of the victims of the Manchester bomb. It is those who wish to close down an honest reckoning with the attack and bury it under ritual denunciations. Behind these persists continuing collaboration and support for the reactionary Islamic radicalism which supports and defends western imperialist interests in the Arab and Middle East region.
The establishment, through its media and politicians, has a well-rehearsed procedure: it declares an issue to be ‘above politics’ or ‘above party politics’, often because it raises fundamental questions that it does not want people even to consider. But this is precisely what politics is about. The bombing of children in the name of a political cause screams as loudly as the explosion itself that this is a political issue, and Jeremy Corbyn is to be congratulated for speaking out against the Tory omertà.
On issue after issue, from Brexit to terrorism, the more Theresa May says nothing more than ‘trust me’ the more people turn against doing just this. We are told that she is going to make security a central issue in the election but again it is one more issue upon which she has declared that we can say nothing. It is not acceptable in relation to Brexit and it is certainly not acceptable when children are slaughtered. Questions must be asked and answers pursued and Jeremy Corbyn has done a great service by creating the potential for this to happen.