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May 30, 2017

Terror in Manchester


May 30, 2017

On the eve of May 23, England once again became the target of a terrorist attack. The city was Manchester and venue a musical concert. Most of the casualties were women and children. Of the 22 dead, half were girls below the age of 16. After the attack, the Islamic State took responsibility for the suicide bombing.

The attack was the worst in the UK since 2005, when a series of explosions rocked the transport system in London, killing over 50 people. Manchester is in the northern part of England and has a population of over 2.5 million people. It is one of the largest urban sprawls in the UK. Just like Birmingham, it also has a large concentration of people who are of Muslim and Pakistani origin. But the ratio of Muslims or Pakistanis in Manchester is lower than what it is in Bradford. Though large segments of people with Muslim and Pakistani origins who have been living in the country for generations can be found in many British cities, they prefer to remain isolated and mostly interact with their own people.

There are exceptional cases such as Sadiq Khan, the elected mayor of London, who have been integrated fully into British society. But overall, this integration is hard to find among British Muslims. One of the reasons for this isolation is the tendency among many British Muslims, Pakistanis in particular, to dislike the Western traditions of Europe. They stick to their age-old mores of sectarianism and narrow religiosity.

Though Britain has suffered many attacks at the hands of the Irish freedom fighters in the 1970s, the new wave of the post-9/11 period has overshadowed any previous cycle of terror. There are myriads of groups in Britain that entice disgruntled young minds with their sectarian agenda. Most young Muslims around the world have a lot of reservations regarding their society, rulers, neighbours and the very socio-economic system in which they live or have migrated to. So when they find somebody offering a quick way to heaven, the desire becomes all the more compelling.

It appears that many young Muslims want solutions to their real or perceived problems in an easy manner that does not require much social understanding. To some, the easiest way is to become a suicide bomber. Britain is host to many sectarian outfits. Just visit Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds or Manchester, and you will see places of worships and seminaries belonging to all sorts of denominations and sects, written boldly on their facades.

If you happen to live there or have just landed for education, you will meet preachers who try to draw you to their group. If you refuse to join a group, you will be deemed to be a member of a rival group. Preachers often knock at your doors and you will be compelled to either excuse yourself or join them. That’s how sectarianism is spreading rapidly and those Muslims who prefer to remain aloof from the mainstream have a lot to do with it.

For example, in the terror attacks of 2005 in London, there were at least four perpetrators, with a mastermind, Sidique Khan, leading them. Sidique Khan was born in Leeds. While he looked like a normal young man, he harboured hatred against the British and their way of life. He and his family took full advantage of the British welfare system, especially free healthcare and education. At the same time, they remained in their own shells and mostly interacted with the people of their own ilk who spoke the same language of hostility.

A self-righteous approach towards their own religion and sect or a feeling of superiority about their own ethnic group or race prompts many Muslims and Pakistanis to look down upon the British, or Christians in general.

Similarly, another suicide bomber of the London attack was Shahzad Tanweer who was born in Bradford but grew up in Leeds. He acquired higher education. This was, ultimately, of no use to him owing to his sectarian outlook, which had cancelled any positive impact the education might have had.

Such people don’t see beyond their noses nor do they try to understand that the main purpose of education is to become better human beings and improve society. To understand this, you must be associated and work with the society you live in. This association and cooperation cannot be achieved if one is intoxicated with a sense of superiority for their religion and sect. If hatred is nurtured, terror is the inevitable outcome.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

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