Blowing up teenaged girls and their parents is despicable. So are the predictable vigils, flowers, little stuffed bears, politicians vowing to stand together and all the other ritual manifestations of impotence we’ll see in the next few days.
At this point, the suicide bomber’s name is known, Salman Abedi. Yes, he was a Muslim. It appears that the bomb was fairly sophisticated and there are suggestions it was made by someone who knew what they were doing. But we’ll have to wait on the outcome of the investigation to find out if Abedi acted alone.
After this sort of attack there is a natural tendency to look at what can be done to prevent further attacks. Hardening the perimeters of public spaces and such like. The Israelis pretty much defeated the waves of suicide bombings which plagued the country a couple of decades ago by creating and enforcing very strict security in every public space in the country. Certainly, something to be looked at in England and, sadly, in Canada.
Is there an argument for more aggressive policing in Muslim majority areas? Probably. And more surveillance and more human intelligence. But I would be surprised if this had much effect. There is already a lot of surveillance and intelligence gathering in these communities and terror plots are broken up regularly.
The political classes are keen to say that “This will not break us, we will not give into hate. Islam is a religion of Peace.” They utter these banalities because they have no other solutions. Decades ago the political class decided that Muslim immigrants and refugees were exactly the same as any other sort of immigrant or refugee and that, in a matter of a generation or two, would assimilate to English or German or French society. This has not turned out to be the case. No doubt some of the blame for that rests on the native populations’ failure to really welcome Muslim immigrants. But the bulk of the problem arises from the fact that as a matter of religious and cultural practice, Muslims tend to self-ghettoize.
So long as Muslim numbers are small there is very little choice for arriving Muslim immigrants but to work hard to join the mainstream societies they have arrived in. However, once Muslim numbers increase, parallel societies grow and assimilation becomes optional.
Non-assimilation does not automatically produce terrorism. And partial assimilation, Abedi was, apparently, a Manchester United fan, does not automatically prevent terrorism. The problem is that a relatively isolated community can contain and conceal a radical fringe and that fringe can produce terrorists.
There are no easy fixes for the errors made decades ago. Yes, it would make sense to avoid making the problem worse by letting in thousands of unvetted, military aged, male Muslims as “refugees”. And it would make sense for every European nation to regain complete control over any “no go” areas in its territory. (Which may be more than a little difficult but needs to be done quickly.)
Beyond that, programs to voluntarily repatriate recent Muslim arrivals could make sense for some countries. Setting a goal and a budget to entice Muslims to leave places where they may not feel welcome is a step in the right direction. Implementing a general rule that where an immigrant or refugee breaks the law in a relatively serious way, expulsion is automatic might also be effective.
None of those measures does much damage to a rights-based, liberal, society. Whether they would do much to reduce terror remains to be seen. However, if they do not then more intrusive measures are likely to be demanded. Shutting down mosques where there are indications of radicalization, aggressive searches where weapons or explosives are suspected, repatriation of immigrants and refugees who are unemployed after a fixed period are all things which might improve security but at the cost of some of the rights of the Muslim community.
None of this is going to happen quickly. It has taken years for the West’s Muslim problem to develop and it will take years to improve the situation. Mouthing the platitudes does essentially nothing; but it will take real political courage to admit the West, in particular Western Europe, has a Muslim problem and to suggest ways of fixing it.
I am not holding my breath.