Jonathon Shafi: Here's what Katie Hopkins and Isis have in common

CommonSpace columnist Jonathon Shafi says the far right and extremists in groups like Isis feed off of one another's hate

WAKING to the full horror of Monday night. Sick to the stomach and thinking of those who lost loved ones. There will be a lot of people scared today - and the mix of fear and hate will have to be overcome. I hope and believe the great city of Manchester and all of its people will show the way. A wretched day. 

Those were my first, uncertain and worried thoughts the morning after the attack. A few days later, let's take stock of the initial reaction to the attack at Manchester Arena. 

As the horrific images and videos began to appear it was evident that this attack was severe, and aimed at civilians. Children and young adults enjoying a pop concert. Something so utterly depraved that one could not ascribe it to the actions or ambitions of a whole community. Something so incredibly cruel that the immediate response of the majority of us was simply one of grief, concern, worry and solidarity.

This time, Katie Hopkins went too far even for some of her supporters. At 7:24am she tweeted that we needed a "final solution".

Those were not the first thoughts of the far right, which has become brazen at intervening as these events unfold. None more so than former English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson. His tweet at 12:37am looked more like a commentary of a sporting event in which his team had scored. 

Unable to hide what we can only determine to be a form of excitement he said: "If this explosion turns out to be an Islamic attack on children at a news concert, it's a big game changer massive! This can't continue." He later appeared on the Alex Jones Show - the platform of a man who made himself famous by declaring 9/11 was an inside job carried out by a faction of the US government. The ravine-like gap in narrative doesn't seem to matter - just keep the hate flowing and the paranoia on tap.

The kind of sentiment distributed by Robinson was widespread on the alt-right Twitter scene. There were all kinds of people hoping that the explosion was related to terrorism, and specifically to a muslim. For them, these events are recruiting sergeants to their cause. They turn into immediate propagandists, spreading poison online. Such events provide them with a semi-permanent resource from which to grow. Each time raises the stakes and the rhetoric. 

This time, Katie Hopkins went too far even for some of her supporters. At 7:24am she tweeted that we needed a "final solution". The final solution, of course, was the name given by he Nazis to describe the genocidal extermination of Jews during the Third Reich. This kind of talk is dangerous in the extreme, because it sets the bar so high in terms of what becomes acceptable to say, but also because it incites violence against muslims.

Indeed, arsonists torched a mosque in Manchester in the aftermath of the attack. People often forget that muslims are in many ways even more anxious than others after these attacks, fearful of reprisals and a racist backlash that castigates them and their families as would-be supporters of such an abhorrent event.

This kind of talk is dangerous in the extreme, because it sets the bar so high in terms of what becomes acceptable to say, but also because it incites violence against muslims.

What much of the commentary misses is that the strategy of groups like Isis is actually turbo charged by the far right. It wants muslims to come under attack. It wants its attacks to generate civil strife. It wants to build a situation where muslims become alienated from European society. 

Its strategic objectives are therefore directly aided by the likes of Hopkins and the army of far right social media accounts calling for war with Islam. They want all muslims to be associated with terrorism, and so does Isis. The imperatives of the far right and Isis work hand in hand, and they recruit directly from each other's actions. 

Terrorism helps the far right recruit, and as muslims come under attack, Isis can deliver on a key objective: to divide muslims from wider society.

The far right is the front line when it comes to immediate and brazen responses to terrorism. But while it is a real threat, the far right in the UK is fragmented and, in relative terms, quite weak. The more mainstream rightwing response to terrorism is also problematic. It sees within these events opportunities to entrench the security state, and to sow division - a practice it is well schooled in.

So, for example, The Sun, even after the attack, published online and in print the most hideous attack on Labour's Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. At 2:35am, it published an editorial which said that they had been directly responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians as a result of their "support" for the IRA. 

What much of the commentary misses is that the strategy of groups like Isis is actually turbo charged by the far right. It wants muslims to come under attack. It wants its attacks to generate civil strife.

The parallels they were drawing were clear. As far as the Sun was concerned the attack was, if anything, an excellent reason and an opportunity to bludgeon Corbyn. Think about that - and how sewer level it is. But also think about the consequences for democratic life in this country. 

There is a monopoly on morality according to the right when it comes to terrorism. Only it has the right position - and only it is allowed to speak, for it is the only one patriotic enough. 

As if to take this position into common parlance, the writer Tim Dawson tweeted: "This is what your endorsing of you vote for the arsehole Corbyn #Manchester #ManchesterArena."

In reality it's all smoke, mirrors and toxic opportunism. In reality it is they who aid the likes of Isis - not just in terms of the cycle of recruitment the division - but also because they think that a crackdown on civil liberties, the army on the street and an autocratic turn is the way forward. 

Again, this is exactly what Isis wants to happen. And, again, this is also what a regime in crisis wants. They want control, a disciplined population and the absolute right to label even the leader of the opposition in a democratic election as a terrorist sympathiser on the same day as the attack that left 22 dead in Manchester.

Terrorism helps the far right recruit, and as muslims come under attack, Isis can deliver on a key objective: to divide muslims from wider society.

It's sickening. And more than that it offers no way forward. We have to break the cycle, and interrupt the dynamic that plays out between Isis, the far-right and the most backward elements of the state.

The people of Manchester gave us all hope on that front. The EDL tried to have a demo - but it was shut down by ordinary Mancunians. Viral tweets blasted out the message that everyone, from all backgrounds, was on hand to help practically on the ground. 

People talked of the muslim taxi drivers giving free rides away from the arena, and of the injured met and treated by muslim nurses and doctors at the hospital. 

Ian, the Glaswegian living in Manchester, spoke for city when he said they would never be divided. His Newsnight clip went viral, too. We saw tens of thousands rally in the evening to stand united as a city. They were offered the best possible leadership by the mayor, Andy Burnham, who refused to let even a hint of division into proceedings, because he knows that would only have handed the terrorist a victory. 

 

 

And the Sun will now be boycotted by many thousands, very possibly by the city as a whole, after its tawdry intervention. It is within all of this that not just hope but social resiliance is to be found. 

It really is true to say that we cannot give way to fear. It's also true that many want us to. People who do not have the interests of cohesion at heart, and people who are only too willing to make political capital out of barbarism.

There is such a level of irresponsibility here that we must take inspiration from those who really stood up to be counted and who have led the way forward with courage, dignity and a deeply felt sense of genuine solidarity. 

Not Britain First, or Tommy Robinson, or Katie Hopkins or the Sun. But the great people of Manchester. 

Picture courtesy of Jonathon Shafi

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