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Manchester Attack

The Simple Problems with the Right's Response to the Manchester Attack

Calling bullshit on "virtue signalling", snowflakes and misleading memes.

by Simon Childs
23 May 2017, 3:49pm

As details around the terror attack in Manchester continue to emerge, a torrent of bullshit continues to sluice around Twitter.

This morning, Katie Hopkins evoked the Holocaust, calling for a "final solution" amid a deluge of anti-Muslim tweets; alt-right creeps have been professing their horror while delighting in spinning the tragedy for their own ends; and anonymous users with names like LionHeart66 have been sharing plainly incorrect memes with the sort of people likely to believe any anti-Muslim messages they read.

On right-wing Twitter, in the absence of much officially-confirmed information, a fact-shaped vacuum is being filled by people who had their post-attack script ready before the first reports even began rolling in. Here's a list of the unhelpful tropes that are doing the rounds, scapegoating communities and taking advantage of grief, and why they're total bullshit.

EXPRESSING GRIEF IS "VIRTUE SIGNALLING"

A load of people are tweeting that praying, lighting candles or simply saying something supportive is meaningless "virtue signalling" – that the outpouring of grief over a deeply tragic and clearly grief-worthy event is nothing more than self-serving nonsense. The same goes for anyone sending messages of solidarity to the UK's Muslim population – many of whom have been accused of both virtue signalling and of "ignoring the real victims".

A lot of the furious tweeters go on to say that the only meaningful response to a situation like this is some kind of "fight back" – and, by that, you have to assume they mean a hate crime or a bombing campaign – before declaring their disgust at the attack.

First off, calling people out for virtue signalling feels very much like its own form of virtue signalling. "All these other people's confused sadness is nothing compared to my righteous anger." Mostly, though, the misplaced idea that displays of public mourning don't mean a thing is just sad. Maybe it's a lack of empathy; maybe it's a deep-seated set of prejudices; maybe it's both.

"POLITICIANS ARE TELLING US TO JUST ACCEPT THIS"

Amid all the messages of shock, grief and defiance coming from officials and politicians around the world, there seems to be the idea that our leaders have actually repeatedly told us to just accept the fact terror incidents happen. In particular, there's an image of London Mayor Sadiq Kahn doing the rounds, with his face next to a quote reading: "Terror attacks are part and parcel of living in a big city." Which, yes, sounds quite bad on its own, but here's the quote in full:

"Part and parcel of living in a great global city is you've got to be prepared for these things, you've got to be vigilant, you've got to support the police doing an incredibly hard job. We must never accept terrorists being successful, we must never accept that terrorists can destroy our life or destroy the way we lead our lives."

So yeah, not really the same as a big shrug to terrorism.

I TOLD YOU SO

Endlessly warning about a generalised threat of the "Islamification" of Europe does not mean you saw this attack coming while everyone else ignored the threat of terror. The current officially designated UK terror threat level is "severe", which means an attack is "highly likely", and the response of the emergency services is enough to let you know that people are aware.

In fact, the government's "Prevent" anti-extremism programme has been widely criticised for virtually treating young Muslims as potential terrorists. The UN's special rapporteur has said that "By dividing, stigmatising and alienating segments of the population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it."

In other words: assuming that all Muslims are terrorists is virtually government policy already, and could be increasing the threat of terror. Your consistent Islamophobia is telling nobody anything.

EVERYONE'S TOO BUSY TAKING OFFENCE TO CARE ABOUT A TERROR ATTACK

It seems pretty clear that everyone's attention is, in fact, on the attack itself, the victims and showing solidarity with Manchester.

But yes, some people have been slightly distracted by shitty racist comments, because the direct aftermath of a horrific event is a pretty easy time to get a rise out of someone. It's right that people are appalled by Katie Hopkins calling for a "final solution". It would be pretty fucked up if a celebrity talking head dropped a casual Holocaust reference and everyone was completely fine with it. Refusing to put up with hateful trash isn't separate from recognising the victims – it's part of the same empathetic human instinct.

This is really intended to shut people up. The implication is that anyone desperate to pin this on Muslims everywhere should be allowed to scream from the top of their lungs, while anyone who questions that is too busy taking offence to see the true horror of the attack. It's precisely the horrific nature of what went on that makes interpreting what went on so important.

@simonchilds13