Manchester: an attack on women and girls?

A 4x4 graphic with pictures of 16 of the 17 women and girls murdered in the terrorist attack in Manchester last Monday. They are white women and girls from age 8 to 51.In the aftermath of last Monday’s terrorist attack on the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, the British feminist writer Karen Ingala-Smith wrote a blog entry claiming that it is “essential that we view the attack as an attack on women”, not only in the light of the fact that 17 of the 22 victims were female, but also because:

Daesh [ISIS / so-called Islamic State] have claimed responsibility and so the attack is rightly framed in the context of religious extremism. The patriarchal oppression of women by men is at the heart of this ideology, and in that respect Daesh is not alone. Inequality between women and men and men’s violence against women go hand-in-hand the world over. It is estimated that across the globe 66,000 women and girls are killed violently every year. Generally those countries with the highest homicide rates are those with the highest rates of fatal violence against women and girls; but other factors are at play too, countries with higher levels of sex inequality also have high rates of men’s violence against women and girls. The UK is no exception, this year, even before the attack in Manchester, at least 37 UK women had been killed by men. Links between men who perpetrate violence against women and terrorism are now being identified; and mass killers, including school shooters, are almost always male.

I’m not sure I agree with her analysis. My theory about post-Gulf War terrorism (the al-Qa’ida and now ISIS variety) is that the intention is to provoke a conflict between Muslims and the West in which Muslims will have to choose sides; the provocation of either a wave of repression against ordinary Muslims or a military strike against Muslims somewhere in the world is the point. They could not, after all, deal a significant blow to western civilisation by hitting a pop gig, especially not one device at just one show, and their effect on westerners’ behaviour will consist of a few cancelled gigs and heightened security measures for a few months, as was the case after the 2005 London bombings. So, one suspects that this show was targeted, rather than one which would have had a more adult audience (like the KISS show which was to take place the next day, or the forthcoming Kings of Leon or Ritchie Blackmore gigs), because a terrorist attack on a show attracting a lot of young girls would provoke greater outrage because young people, and girls especially, are in general regarded as precious — hence the “Pure/Evil” juxtaposition on the Sun’s front page on Wednesday morning. That said, ISIS-associated terrorists have attacked entertainment events with more of an adult male audience in the recent past, such as the Eagles of Death Metal show in Paris.

Then again, we are assuming a lot in the absence of any word from the attacker, the cell involved or, really, anything authentic from ISIS; the statement claiming responsibility overestimated the number of devices (implying there were more than one) and the dead and injured (claiming 30 were killed and 70 wounded, when both figures were in fact fewer than those) and suggested that the devices were “placed” at the scene rather than simply delivered and detonated. There are also screenshots of the attack being celebrated online by pro-ISIS elements. But ISIS have claimed responsibility for acts which they could not possibly have had anything to do with and which would be an embarrassment if they did (e.g. the Westminster car/knife attack). This attack may well have been the work of sympathisers of “Islamic State” rather than the thing itself, perhaps remnants of al-Qa’ida that are now aligned with ISIS, perhaps a group based in Libya where the bomber himself came from. Until trials are held, if they ever are, we are unlikely to get to the bottom of why they targeted this particular event and not another.

A black marble plaque showing the names of the 14 victims of the 1989 Montreal massacre. There is a circle around them with 14 white metallic circles, with a logo of an insect at the top, the words "In memoriam" and the date (6 Dec 1989) at the bottom. For the names, click the image.By naming all the victims, Ingala-Smith places the Manchester attack in the same category of mass murders as Montreal, in which a man who blamed women and feminists in particular for “ruining his life” murdered 14 women at a college in 1989. I suspect that if he had wanted to kill women or girls specifically, he could have found venues where there would have been fewer adults or fewer men or boys present. At least half of the victims were not concert-goers but people coming to pick up relatives from the concert; I think it inappropriate to list the male victims in the “and also” section as if they were less important or not the intended victims, when they died with their female partners or daughters. It’s been suggested that it was an attack on youth rather than on women, but I believe it was an attack on the general public, intended to cause outrage and provoke confrontation. None of the victims is any less important than any of the others.

Image source: Karen Ingala-Smith, Wikimedia.

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