After The Manchester Attack, The Right Wing’s Draconian Measures Are Both Ignorant And Misogynist
The right wing would say, as they crack down on our Muslim community, that they are protecting women and girls — but as proper feminists, we say no to racist and draconian actions in our name.
On Monday, a British-born man detonated a suicide bomb as an Ariana Grande concert ended in the city of Manchester. Twenty-two people were killed and over 100 were injured; the victims included little girls and teens, many of whom were celebrating music and life at their very first concert.
The so-called Islamic State took credit for the attack, and, as many have pointed out in the British press and around the world, it was an attack made explicitly on women and girls. Ariana Grande, formerly a star on children’s television geared toward girls, puts on a dazzling pop show that is adored by her young fans — mostly girls, young women, and queer folks. But some of the government’s actions, even as they honor the dead and injured, frame the very femininity of many of the victims as vulnerability — and call for a response rooted in toxic masculinity and violence.
Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May has deployed thousands of armed troops on the streets to, supposedly, guard iconic sites and free up police to protect us from an imminent attack. The terrorist threat level has been raised to “critical.” And right-wing commentators are calling for the summary deportation of Muslim immigrants under any sort of suspicion from police — all in the name of protecting women and girls.
Some of the government’s actions, even as they honor the dead and injured, frame the very femininity of many of the victims as vulnerability — and call for a response rooted in masculinity and violence.
As part of her show of force, our prime minister, has also called for more surveillance, asking social media giants to monitor users more closely, and demanding a back door to encrypted communications. But as we mourn and respond, we must not allow the right wing to evoke the ancient idea that women and girls must be protected by men. The right wing would say, as they crack down on our Muslim community, that they are protecting women and girls—but as proper feminists, we say no to racist and draconian actions in our name.
The skewed religious dictates of the Islamic State (IS) demand that women and girls take no role in public life; instead they are treated as chattel. In IS-controlled territories, women from conquered territories have been kidnapped and used as sex slaves. Women and girls they recruit and bring to their territories serve as concubines for their high officials and warriors. It is partly this worldview — one that holds women and girls as objects — that made an Ariana Grande concert the target of a terrorist inspired by the Islamic State; her music and performances celebrate and center the experience of womanhood. They are both by us and for us, filled with pure fun and exuberance — and that is why a young man, radicalized and sworn to their twisted notion of jihad, blew himself up.
As we mourn and respond, we must not allow the right wing to evoke the ancient idea that women and girls must be protected by men.
The dead include an 8-year-old, Saffie Roussos, a quiet and creative girl who died in the arms of a first responder. They include Georgina Callander, a 16-year-old Ariana superfan who had met the pop star at a previous concert, and Martyn Hett, a young gay man renowned for his hilarious Coronation Street fan videos, a man whose Twitter post of his mother’s craft stall once went viral, leading her to sell out of stock.
The response to the brutal attack brought out the best in Manchester. Taxi drivers turned the meter off and hung handwritten signs, “FREE TAXI,” to transport shocked concertgoers home when public transport was shuttered. Hotels and private homeowners opened their doors. Mancunians lined up to give blood, and locals brought stacks of pizzas to hospitals to feed emergency staff run off their feet.
Amid the heartfelt grief of the loved ones of the dead, and the mourning cries of Manchester, the country, and the world, there were many calls to respond to the vicious terrorism with open-hearted respect for Muslims, for immigrants, for people of color. The night of the bombing, the racist, anti-immigration English Defense League tried to stage a protest outside Manchester’s Arndale Shopping Centre, waving flags and calling for Britain to stand up to Islam, and the people of the city shut it down with overwhelming numbers. They were rightly horrified that anyone would use the murder of little girls as an excuse to foment racism and Islamophobia.
But there were some commentators who fanned the flames of hate, who identified Britishness with whiteness, Christianity, or secularism. Katie Hopkins, a notorious spewer of bile and a Daily Mail columnist, wrote a tweet, now deleted, calling for a “final solution” to the problem of terrorism, invoking the vile phrase the Nazis used to describe the Holocaust. She has demanded, over and over, draconian crackdowns on Muslims in the United Kingdom. And, in the wake of this heinous attack she has called on “Western men” to “rise up,” saying “these are your wives, your daughters” under threat, calling them “cowed” by political correctness.
Time and again in the wake of this devastating tragedy, Hopkins has invoked little girls to political ends, and though she is a very powerful woman, she demands a powerful state and armed men to protect UK’s “wives and daughters.” She calls for draconian control, for deportations, for white, British values from a bygone colonial era steeped with violence. Her virulent anger has, throughout her career, taken the hurt and pain that we feel when we experience violence and manipulated it, channeling it into racism and reaction. In all of her entrancing words, she does not, notably, call for a society where male violence is eradicated. Nor does she call for a society where everyone protects everyone, and terrorism vanishes because it’s everyone’s job to make sure nobody is threatened, humiliated, or oppressed.
Hopkins wants to make our country a fortress of values from a bygone era, but with every poisoned word, she strengthens and emboldens the terrorists.
With every poisoned word, she strengthens and emboldens the terrorists.
With the stroke of a pen, Theresa May has deployed thousands of soldiers in the streets, armored and armed with deadly force. They’re there on her order, because after her party’s years of cutting funds for the police, there aren’t enough officers available to provide both a public show of force and the ongoing investigative work needed to stop the second attack which our prime minister says is imminent.
The Conservative government promises to demand backdoors into encryption, and to beef up the Prevent program, which forces teachers, students, lecturers and caregivers to report nebulous signs of radicalization to the authorities. (This, when concerned people who knew the murderer reported him to police five times, without any meaningful action being taken.) In invoking the image of little white girls, she has encouraged a muscular, authoritarian response — a show of force, a polarization between “us” and “them,” and she has played her part in a long history of using the specter of injured white womanhood to provoke racist backlash.
Such actions are exactly what the terrorists want.
Muslims have long been lumped together with the minority extremist groups who sully our beliefs for their own political…theestablishment.co
In “Dabiq,” the vile English-language magazine issued by IS from 2014 to 2016, the cover story of their seventh issue talked about the extinction of the “grayzone,” the division of Muslims and non-Muslims into two separate camps. The admitted goal of terrorist acts in the name of Islam is, in large part, to foment a permanent and unbridgeable cultural, spiritual, and political divide between Muslims and non-Muslims. In the article, the author cites Osama bin Laden, attributing to him the following quote: “The world is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,’ meaning either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.”
The terrorists organized or inspired by the Islamic State actively provoke and encourage the polarization called for by people like Katie Hopkins. They want Trump’s Muslim ban, they want people to report children to authorities for peacefully opposing the occupation of Palestine or the bombing of Syria. They choose targets like the Paris Bataclan, like Florida’s Pulse nightclub, and like the Manchester Evening News arena not just because they despise the mingling of genders and the freedom of women, but because they want the wounded public to listen to the racists’ calls for blood and to cheer deportations, restrictions on Muslim religious expression, and spying.
They called Trump’s Muslim ban a “blessed ban,” because they want Muslims to feel that everyone is against them, that they have nowhere to turn other than their bloodthirsty, twisted “caliphate.” And they want to evoke Britain as an injured nation, a bulldog protecting women and girls who are too weak protect themselves, and I fear that they are all too aware of murderers like Dylann Roof, a white man who claimed the defense of white womanhood as his justification when shot up a Charleston black church.
Terrorists want the wounded public to listen to the racists’ calls for blood and to cheer deportations, restrictions on Muslim religious expression, and spying.
Women everywhere are under threat of male violence, particularly from those closest to us. The joyfulness of an Ariana Grande concert celebrates the freedom of women and girls in a way that poses a counterpoint to that violence. To counterpose her music, and the girls who love her, to a false picture of Islam promoted by terrorists degrades her — and it excludes the Muslim cab drivers who took survivors home, and Muslim first responders and health workers who comforted the dying and patched up survivors. It excludes little girls with brown skin and modestly dressed Muslim women who love her music.
I say to Katie Hopkins that we must oppose terrorism, and the best way to do that is to ensure that our “we” does not center whiteness, or a fragile concept of femininity, or Christianity. I say to her that the best way to oppose terrorism is to fight the humiliation, marginalization, and deprivation that is the fertile ground of terrorist recruitment.