Salman Abedi was a weapon, to understand what happened we need to look at who aimed and fired him
There is a diagram, leaked to the press by an American intelligence official that models the blast set of by Salman Ramadan Abedi in the foyer of the Manchester Arena. I have not reproduced it here out of respect of the families of the dead and maimed, but it shows where the bomb detonated and where the murdered and the injured fell. It depicts the concentric circle of death and pain that have broken the heart of Manchester. But the radius of the blast goes far beyond the shrapnel scarred walls of the Arena, just as the blame goes far beyond Abedi, the widely disliked misfit with ‘hate in his face.’
After the killer himself, it falls on those responsible for radicalising him; for taking an angry and alienated young man and helping him to turn his hate, and his body, into a weapon. Abedi was the son of a Libyan dissident and part of a tight-knit community of refugees who fled the Gadhafi regime for a Manchester suburb. As reports continue to emerge, it seems Abedi had the classic lifestyle of a western-born attacker, he drank, he smoked cannabis; he was, in short, as alienated from the spiritual aspects of his faith as from the community round him. It seems that Abedi and other members of his family were regularly in Libya after the fall of the Ghadaffi regime. It is not too much to presume that it was in the cauldron of chaos that the country has become that Abedi came into contact with the Wahabi/Salafi Jihadists who helped him to complete his journey from misfit to mass-murderer.
But when we look deeper than the man and his associates, a whole host of troubling facts emerge. Abedi was reported for his dangerous views but nothing was done. There are indications that British intelligence operated an ‘open door’ policy for Libyans wanting to travel return to their homeland to take part in both the toppling of Gadhafi and the multi-sided civil war that has plagued the country since its dictator was removed. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Middle Eastern events for the last thirty years; from the rise of the Mujahedeen in ‘80s Afghanistan to the Iraq and Syria conflicts, Western intelligence agencies have attempted to ride the tiger of jihadist militancy for short-term gain. Each time they have failed spectacularly and each time they have continued as if those failures were anomalies instead of part of a pattern.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former advisor to Jimmy Carter who passed away recently, articulated this strategy in unambiguous terms:
Even such establishment papers as The Daily Telegraph are pointing the finger of blame at the security services for missing at least five opportunities to bring Abedi in. The fact that Abedi was, in some sense, an ‘asset’ of British intelligence, also explains why the vast majority of what we know about him came first from that American intelligence official – someone deep in the bowels of the US security establishment who will have warned of the threat that Abedi and others like him posed and been ignored.
So after the killer and those who radicalised him, we can see that the role our own intelligence agencies played makes them culpable, either through their negligence or by enabling Abedi to receive the indoctrination and training that he did whilst allowing him to remain free.
Intelligence agencies, however, do not act on their own, they are mere instruments of the politicians who direct them. The combination of ideologically driven and ineffective domestic counter-extremism policies like Prevent and continued support in the Middle East for military interventions and the very regimes most responsible for spreading the hateful innovation of Whahbism mean that there is blood on the hands of politicians from Washington to London to Paris.
It is a horrible synchronicity that just the day before the attack, Donald Trump was in Saudi Arabia, praising the Kingdom’s stand against terrorism and (in a speech that bizarrely did not even mention ISIS) laying the blame for all the world’s terrorism at the door of Iran whilst agreeing a deal to sell hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.
But it was not Iran that enabled the attack; it was not the Islamic Republic’s Shia Islam that provided the ideological justification for the murder of 22 innocents. Instead it was the network of madrassas, militants and hardline mullahs that has been created and supported by Saudi and its Gulf allies across the Muslim world over the last fifty years. Our leaders, then, must take their share of the blame, both for engaging in the interventions that destabilised counties like Lybia, Syria and Iraq and for directly supporting with weapons and political cover those nations which promote Jihadists and the vile perversion of Islam that they preach.
Finally, there is some blame to be laid at the door of us Muslims – although not in the sense that the far-right would have it. We are not all ticking time bombs waiting to go off, but too many of us have for too long, allowed bigotry to go unchallenged. Yes it is true that Abedi was reported, but many of the views he held still find safe haven in the whispering corners of the hearts of some Muslims who have been happy to take Gulf money and allow the insidious influence of the ideology it promotes to define our debates around engagement and integration. Overt calls to violence might be decried, but statements like “Shias are kafirs” have gone unchallenged because they conform to deeply held prejudices. As a result, the monster of takfirism – excommunicatory logic – has grown and now many mainstream Sunni groups find themselves under suspicion. It will only be a matter of time before they, too are in the crosshairs.
Islam strongly discourages the act of takfir because it us up to Allah alone to judge our hearts, but it has long been the go-to tactic of far too many of those who whose understanding of Islam comes from the Wahabi or Salafi schools on in the Arab world and their Deobandi analogue on the Indian Sub-continent. It is a logic that cannot go unchallenged. And yes, that means we must pronounce takfir upon the takfiris. There are some who will be squeamish about this, who will say that it makes us no different to those we are combatting. This is a logical fallacy, a pathetic and cowardly excuse. There is no equivalence between those perpetrating violence and encouraging bigotry on the one hand and those who refuse to put up with it on the other. The line must be drawn somewhere, and if not here, then where?