Some media responded to the Manchester suicide-bomb attack by attacking liberals, while other extreme-right news outlets and personalities ridiculed the value of coming together in the face of terrorism.
On 22 May, twenty-two people, mostly young people, died and scores more were seriously injured in a suicide-bomb attack at the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena, close to Manchester’s Victoria train station. The dignified, calm and united response of Mancunians to the deadly terrorist attack has been rightly praised. In the immediate aftermath, hotel and cafe workers, taxi drivers, emergency services, NHS staff, worked flat out with a single goal – to alleviate suffering. Certain public moments became emblematic of the Manchester spirit. After a minute’s silence at a vigil in St Anne’s Square a crowd gradually joined in as a woman sang Oasis’s ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. The power of a crowd coming together had also been experienced the day before at the town hall vigil, as Tony Walsh read his poem, ‘This is the Place’ with its emphasis on ‘northern grit’ and the city’s proud legacy providing the emotional strength to bring people through ‘hard times’.
But not everyone was taken with the ‘coming together’ message, or felt comfortable with the call made by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and other civic leaders to avoid hatred and bigotry because that is what terrorism seeks to sow. Burnham quickly issued a statement, pointing out that ‘Manchester terrorist Salman Abedi no more represents Muslims than Jo Cox’s murderer represents white people’. While care was taken by critics not to directly attack the ideal of the Manchester spirit, a counter-narrative began to emerge in some sections of the media in which liberalism was held to be a threat to ordinary people’s security, with the idea of coming together seen as weak and naive.
‘Do not carry on as normal’
Telegraph columnist Alison Pearson called for the ‘internment of thousands of terror suspects now to protect our children’ while LBC presenter Katie Hopkins was reported to the police for an anti-Muslim tweet directed at ITV’s ‘This Morning’ host Phillip Schofield in which she called for a ‘final solution’. Outrage was swift, with Hopkins quickly withdrawing her tweet, replacing ‘final solution’ with ‘true solution’. At the same time, she issued another tweet (also reported to the police) which stated: ‘Western men. These are your wives. Your daughters, Your sons. Rise up. Demand action. Do not carry on as normal. Cowed.’ A few days later, LBC Radio decided to part company with Hopkins who, as we go to press, holds on to her Mail Online column, even though it has, reportedly, cost the Mail group at least £474,000 in libel damages and costs so far.
But there were other leader writers and opinion formers on the Daily Mail and the Sun who found the ‘coming together’ message weak and agreed, at least with Pearson, that more emergency measures and less judicial oversight was needed. On 24 May, in a Daily Mail comment piece headlined ‘THE BLOODY PRICE PAID FOR LIBERAL WEAKNESS’, those who opposed emergency measures were singled out for personal attack. The ‘wretched Nick Clegg’s hand-wringing over civil liberties’ was top of the list, quickly followed by ‘our would-be prime minister Jeremy Corbyn – who has joined demonstrations to support IRA murderers and shared platforms with Middle Eastern fanatics’. Corbyn was attacked for speaking in ‘abstractions about terrorism’ while Clegg was blamed for holding back the instincts of Conservatives in the coalition government. The opinion piece ended with a call to the nation, citing the words of Margaret Thatcher fifteen years ago, to stop ‘harbouring those who hate us, tolerating those who threaten us and indulging those who weaken us’.
How victims are treated on the ‘virtual doorstep’
The tabloid press has also come under broader criticism for undermining the right to privacy of families and friends of the dead and the wounded. Many Twitter users detailed how they were pestered by journalists before they even knew whether their loved ones were safe, leading Dr. Glenda Cooper, a lecturer in journalism at the University of London, to argue in favour of an extension of the IPSO Code of Conduct (that deals with intrusion into grief and shock on interviews face to face or over the phone) to include ‘the virtual doorstep’. The Sun was amongst papers criticised for its front-page cover story, which juxtaposed a picture of the youngest victim, Saffie Rose Roussos, with that of the killer. Dan Hett, who was still anxiously looking for his brother, Martyn Hett (who died in the attack) has been publicly critical of the media, for bombarding him with interview requests, even as he was still trying to ascertain whether this brother was alive. The Sun has vigorously rebutted criticism of its coverage, challenging Change.org to remove a petition calling for a boycott of its newspapers in Manchester. It subsequently set up its own fund for the victims, with its publisher, News UK, making a £100,000 donation.
‘Carrying on as before’ = ‘our own sickness’
Much of the reporting in the Daily Mail and the Sun reflects a popular New Right theme, that blames cultural relativism and liberalism for hindering the fight against terrorism by placing too many restraints on executive power. But the London office of the far-right website Breitbart News, which in the US is associated with the white supremacist and white nationalist ‘Alt Right movement’, was much more explicit than the mainstream press in attacking the defiant spirit of ‘carrying on as before’. Two mocking comment pieces, written a day after the attack, by former Ukip leadership hopeful Raheem Kassan (also London Breitbart’s editor-in-chief) and columnist James Delingpole, (who has also written for the Daily Mail and the Spectator), were noteworthy in this respect. Public displays of grief and sympathy for the bereaved had been part and parcel of Manchester’s public response to tragedy. Kassam’s piece (‘A VERY REAL WAR ON WOMEN ARRIVED IN MANCHESTER, ENGLAND, LAST NIGHT’) doesn’t directly attack Mancunians, preferring instead to launch an abstract assault on the ‘trite mindset’ of those who want to ‘carry on as before’. Those who respond to terror with ‘Teddy bears, tears, candles, cartoons, murals, mosaics, flowers, flags, projections, hashtags, balloons, wreaths, lights, vigils, scarves’ were the subject of Kassam’s scorn. ‘We are our own sickness’, he writes, adding that the ‘Keep calm and Carry on Mindset’ was the preserve of ‘hipsters and tourist tat sellers’. The headline on Delingpole’s article, written also on 23 May, the day after the attack, thundered: ‘HOW SOCIAL MEDIA’S USEFUL IDIOTS RESPONDED TO THE MANCHESTER SUICIDE BOMB’. Delingpole (who had quickly tweeted to defend Katie Hopkins) also mocked those who light candles, and ‘pretend it never happened’. Screenshots of the victims were posted, as were the tweets of a number of people who used social media to warn of the dangers of responding to terror with Islamophobia.
Who or what is responsible for terrorism? It may be a question that demands a thoughtful response, but for Delingpole the answer is easy. It’s our ‘dumbed-down education system’, our ‘ignorant, left-leaning teachers’, as well as ‘Soros-funded progressives’. Having first told people to ‘pause’ for thought and consider the victims, Delingpole then describes in morbid detail the ‘dismembered remains of beautiful children’ ‘right now in the morgues of Manchester’, before concluding with a schoolboy-style attack on the ‘Wankerati’ (ie, the arty and chattering classes). Another Breitbart News article ‘LABOUR MANCHESTER MAYOR SAYS SUICIDE BOMBER “NOT A MUSLIM”’ deploys sleight of hand to attack Andy Burnham for what he did not say. Here the Quilliam Foundation chief executive Haras Rafiq is cited, presumably as a ‘native informant’ on Islam, accusing Burnham of ‘basically doing what ISIS is doing’, excommunicating a Muslim from Islam, a practice known ‘as takfiri in Islam’. In another series of Breitbart News articles, the attitude of Hillary-Clinton supporting pop star Kate Perry, with her ‘purposeful’ pop music, as a vocal member of the anti-Trump ‘resistance movement’, was contrasted with that of the Manchester-born patriotic pop star Morrissey (referred to affectionately as Mos), whose ‘oeuvre… works as a massive love missive to his homeland’. ‘MORRISSEY IS HATED FOR LOVING ENGLAND’, opined Daniel J. Flynn on 24 May, with strong words of praise in another piece for Donald Trump, ‘TRUMP’S TRAVEL BAN FOR LIBYAN IMMIGRANTS VINDICATED’. A week after the terror attack, Breitbart News’ articles returned again to the theme of education. This time it was Manchester University which came under attack for thwarting the government’s Prevent strategy. Jo Cox Foundation director Iona Lawrence – who, according to Virginia Hale, campaigns to bring ‘illegal immigrants living in camps in France to Britain’ – was also attacked for a foreword she had written for an educational book entitled Talking About Terrorism.
Immigration blamed by EU’s extreme-right politicians
Salman Abedi’s family were refugees and from Libya, but the 22-year-old terrorist was British-born. But just as after the Westminster attacks, extreme-right politicians in Poland and Hungary found again in the Manchester deaths an opportunity to amplify their rhetoric against the EU, refugees and George Soros. The EU has begun infringement proceedings against Poland over its breach of fundamental European values, while the country (like Hungary) also faces EU sanctions over its refusal to participate in the EU’s refugee quota system. A Polish couple died in the Manchester blast, and prime minister Beata Szydlo asked of Polish parliamentarians, ‘Where are you headed Europe? Rise from your knees and from your lethargy or you will be crying over your children every day.’ The website Hungarian Spectrum provides an enormous amount of detail about the Hungarian anti-immigration extreme-right response to the Manchester attacks, including, principally that of the governing party, Fidesz. Fidesz’s parliamentary leader Lajos Kósa, warned that ‘Terrorism doesn’t start with a “suicide bomber”’. It starts when ‘terrorists illegally come to Europe and many people actually assist them.’ Repeating the Breitbart News attack on George Soros, Magyar Hírlap‘s foreign correspondent, Mariann Őry, attacked a speech made by the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, in sympathy with the people of Manchester. Tusk, according to Őry, is only ‘allegedly fighting against terrorism’. What he really wants to do is to keep ‘kissing (puszilkodik) George Soros, the promoter of “unlimited immigration”’. Another equally bizarre response highlighted on Hungarian Spectrum was that of Guilio Meotti, a regular columnist for the Italian centre-right newspaper Il Foglio as well as for Arutz Sheva, an Israeli national news website that is linked to religious Zionism and the Israeli settler movement. Meotti’s article on the Manchester attack, which was translated into Hungarian by the anti-Muslim, pro-Trump website Vigyázó, was published by Arutz Sheva in English under the headline ‘EUROPE CHOSE TO SACRIFICE ITS CHILDREN TO THE ISLAMIC MOLOCH’. Contrasting Europe’s inability to combat terrorism with the Russians’ and the Israelis’, Meotti’s grand theory seems to be that Europe’s political classes’ lack of civilisational vigour in fighting Muslims stems from the fact that most of their leaders have no children. He lists the German chancellor Angela Merkel, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, French president Emmanuel Macron, Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven, Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, and the head of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, as guilty of the new western civilisational offence of childlessness. ‘Perhaps a childless leader is unable to see farther into the future, apart from his own life.’ ‘Instead of children, Europeans have a weary death wish’, he writes.
Muslims accused of masterminding ‘population replacement’
If European leaders are guilty of depopulating Europe of white Christian stock, they are also guilty of supporting the wrong sort of immigration. Predictably, Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders blamed Islam, the Koran and Muslim immigration for what happened in Manchester. In an essay (‘ISLAM IS TO BLAME FOR MANCHESTER’) published on the far-Right Gates of Vienna website, Wilders complained that weak European politicians refuse to tell us the truth. The cause ‘of all this bloodshed, all this misery, all this pain and sorrow, is the ‘evil totalitarian ideology’ of Islam. Immigration and the movement from Libya to Europe of ‘180,000 people’ on ‘shabby boats’ leads to a ‘process of population replacement’ in Europe, he concludes. Wilders’ version of Hopkins’ ‘true solution’, then, is to ‘get rid of political correctness’ in order to ‘stop all immigration’ and the Islamisation of Europe. And his choice of the phrase ‘population replacement’ is no accident. This term is widely used in far-Right circles across Europe and is taken from the work of the French New Right writer and supporter of Marine Le Pen, Renaud Camus. In 2010 he coined the term ‘le grand remplacement’ to describe a colonisation of France by Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa which threatens to ‘mutate’ the country and its culture permanently.
‘Alt-right’ conspiracy theory
This round-up of media responses to the Manchester terror attacks would not be complete without at least one far-right conspiracy theory (often referred to rather euphemistically in the mainstream media as ‘fake news’). One of the celebrated acts of ‘coming together’ at Manchester was the way that taxi-drivers, many of whom are British Asians, stopped work for the night, ferrying victims of the bomb attack home or to hospital, as well as giving lifts to the police. The Hungarian ‘alt-right’ website Magyar Közösség saw this as sinister. Nineteen girls have disappeared without trace from the location of the terror attack in Manchester, it claimed, adding that Muslim taxi drivers had kidnapped the girls and sold them as slaves and that while the British government is fully aware of this ‘it cannot tell it to the public because otherwise there would be a revolt’. It’s a ‘fake news’ story that, if other far-right conspiracy theories are anything to go by, is set to run and run.