There are times when I feel I'm afraid for the world
There are times I'm ashamed of us all
When you're floating on all the emotion you feel
And reflecting the good and the bad
Blood Brothers (Harris)
Tonight I put on my Iron Maiden t-shirt. It’s of The Trooper, a classic and my virgin Maiden sound that blew me away 30 years ago, making a very loyal listener of me ever since. I’m off to see this supreme heavy metal band play their brilliance and play it all (very) loud, as I am somewhere amid the front stage mayhem. Not quite the spiritual Ramadan preparation found in the text books (the month begins days after), but somehow it works for me. A Maiden concert should feel a million miles away from the button-induced pop dance of an Ariana Grande night, but I feel a real sense of connection. This has nothing to do with taste or style of course, it is something deeper - about being (as Maiden’s Clansman puts it) right to believe in the need to be free.
In Manchester Arena, a certain somebody (I actually don’t care for his name) gruesomely killed, injured, hurt and frightened young concert-goers in a hate fuelled and evil cause (I don’t care for his cause). After feelings of absolute anger and for the loss of others, it is the features of this terrorist attack, and the unfolding facts, that now fill me deeper with worry. The facts matter. Here was someone identified by the security services as belonging to an ‘ISIL family’, and the victims of his terrorism where barely out of primary school. My own daughter, who is 11, asked me whether I was scared to go to the Maiden concert. “I would be Dad, if I was going to it,” she said today, staring blankly at the familiar route home from school. In an instant, the Manchester attack has thrust the living fear of terrorism into the innocent world of a new generation. By slipping the Government’s protection net, it would seem.
Cautiously, I have started to feel our civil society conversations were (finally) moving on from our post 9/11 existence. Every person today under 30 shares this in common: they’ve never truly known life before 9/11. Not really, not as a living, breathing experience. To breeze through airports whisking your British passport and feeling its worth, no undressing at security or tipping your drinks into a bin. In other words, no symptomatic pointers to a ‘Muzz-limb problem’ lurking in civil society.
Since 9/11, officialdom and our news culture have been explaining, sound-byting and questioning our plural and shared existence within a security framework. A frame and language so rigid that almost every civil discussion concerning Muslims seems to bring in or otherwise invite security fears. And yet in the end, having moved through major political chapters abroad and at home, it seemed that the 9/11 children (who on the whole have been brilliantly indifferent and resilient in this climate) had eventually found some space as young adults, where civil society issues could about be just that. Then a terror blast kills children in Manchester, and suddenly the ‘challenge of a generation’ enters a new generation.
The first job of Government is to keep people safe, it is often said. Said by me often too, largely because I agree with it. But if Government is to continue its job of safeguarding our children - your loved ones and mine - what have we learned from the last 15 years that we can take to the next 15? This, I think, is a question of fundamental importance as we shape and become, in our post EU era, ever more plural and digitally connected. So important that we cannot just watch and wait, but work through together we must.
There are two considerations, both related yet separate, that I consider essential here for a broader aim of social progress. The first is to emancipate civil society issues from their securitization. This is harder than it first sounds, because the policy thrust of key issues has been coming from a security base, but it precisely this overbearing force that has seen so many civil society policy initiatives become muddled, misdirected and mistrusted. We must not foster thorough the agency of policy, another 15 years of problem-community sectioning.
The second aims more squarely at my own faith label, though not exclusively. We Muslims have to de-Muslimise our civil society narratives. This too is not as easy as it sounds, but I regard it as having vital and timely importance. The hold of communitarianism upon our outlook has been strengthened in pockets. Circles of Muslim thought that were rooted separately have been observed as joint stems of common grievances and threats. This flowers inward looking protectionism.
These considerations have a reciprocal co-existence. Securitizing policy and narrowing narratives have been talking at (and much less with) each other, yielding an unhealthy harder shell. Which is why I believe a fundamental change in approach is required in each, with the wilful determination to stay the course.
Our children have been frightened and shaken. But they have older brothers and cousins, young uncles and young aunts who have been there before. The resilience and creative mockery with which this emergent generation have carved a new free-spirited culture will see our children laugh and dance again. We older types need these young adults as much our children I believe, to show us where it is our greater strength lies.
In our post Manchester reality, we need to wisen up as take a sword to very different sets of challenges. And from those of us who know, for everything else there is heavy metal.