How to stop people who are determined to kill and maim is again the focus of debate in Britain following the Manchester bombing, the worst terrorist attack in the country in more than a decade.
While visiting hospitalized children injured in the attack, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth determinedly stressed Thursday how “everyone is united” in the aftermath of the attack, dubbing the bombing “dreadful, very wicked.”
Not everyone, though, is emphasizing the importance of unity.
Allison Pearson, a columnist with Britain’s biggest-selling broadsheet, the Daily Telegraph, has maintained that the only way to prevent more jihadist killings is by rounding up and interning thousands of terror suspects “now to protect our children.”
In a tweet in the aftermath of the bombing, controversial Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins urged “Western men” to act.
“These are your wives. Your daughters. Your sons,” she wrote. “Stand up. Rise up. Demand action. Do not carry on as normal. Cowed.”
Hopkins, who has 730,000 followers on Twitter, also tweeted the call for a “final solution” to address Islamic terrorism. The tweet prompted London radio station LBC to fire her Friday as a talk-show host. “Final solution” was a phrase used by the Nazis to refer to their campaign to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust.
Muslims fear a rise in Islamophobia, stoked, they say, by tabloid press commentators like Hopkins.
Fear — and anger
For Britain’s Muslims — especially British-Libyans — the bombing has again raised the specter of being treated differently, of having to look over their shoulders and of being fearful about their future in a country where they were born or that gave them or their families refuge from oppression and intolerance elsewhere. They fear being treated as menacing strangers or potential terrorists in the place they call home.
On Thursday, a crowd paying tribute to the 22 people who were killed in the May 22 bombing at the Ariana Grande concert spontaneously pushed back on talk of retribution and retaliation, picking up the song “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” by the Mancunian rock band Oasis.
But there is anger, and it is being expressed on social media sites and radio talk shows, and in bars and streets, as Britain reels at the slaughter of innocents, prompting some counterterror analysts and civil libertarians to fear that another major bombing could provoke the kind of backlash Islamic State terror strategists hope to engineer.
On Facebook and other social media sites, British-Libyans have been expressing their horror at the attack and denouncing 22-year-old Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber. “Bloody fool! Why would you kill innocents? Can’t believe he was Libyan — it’s bad enough he was a Muslim!” commented a British-Libyan psychologist from the town of Loughborough in the English Midlands.
British-Libyans have also been sharing their fears about what the consequences of the bombing could be for them — especially those living in Manchester, Britain’s largest Libyan community and one of the most closely knit in the country.
“I have mixed Libyan/English heritage and have lived in Manchester my whole life,” posted Fatima Derbi. “I am completely sickened by this!! Unfortunately this may have a negative impact on the 25,000 Libyans living in this city.”
Threats and slurs
Mohamed Shaban, who was born in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, but brought up in London and is now a legal adviser, worries that Abedi will be seen by many Britons as somehow representative of British-Libyans.
“Libyans in the U.K. come in different shades,” Shaban said. “There are those who have excelled in their fields, in medicine, science, law and commerce. Others invest their time and money in charity work, while others have made it as professional footballers at elite English clubs. Unfortunately, one or two have lost their way, and the tragedy is that this abysmal excuse of a human being who mass murdered children at a concert is going to be misdescribed as a representative of all Libyans in the U.K. Sad on so many levels.”
Some Muslims say they are already on the receiving end of threats and slurs. “People will retaliate obviously,” a Manchester Muslim told British broadcaster Channel Four News, adding, “There is a risk. It’s all about ignorance, all about awareness; we need to make sure people are aware of what Islam is really about, because that’s not what our Islam teaches us.”
Some British-Libyans say the onus is on them to be more outspoken in condemnation and much more proactive to argue against those in their own community who are determined to fan the flames of hatred.