Monday 19 August 2019

New Yorkers' reaction puts Trump to shame

The people got on with life but the President played straight into Isil's hands, writes Shona Murray

US president Donald Trump.
US president Donald Trump.

Shona Murray

On Halloween night, following the heinous attack by Sayfullo Saipov who killed eight people and injured 13 others, New Yorkers responded by getting on with their evening's plans.

Parents took their children trick-or-treating in and around Lower Manhattan and proceeded undeterred to the annual Greenwich Village parade - albeit with a dramatically increased security presence.

They were encouraged by New York mayor Bill de Blasio, who said: "People should go about their business knowing that the NYPD is out in force."

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump reacted in exactly the way terrorists had hoped. He started by tearing up the lottery visa programme that permits 50,000 fully vetted people to enter the US legally.

This reaction and his move earlier in the year to ban citizens from seven and then six Muslim-majority countries feeds the narrative that groups like Isil promulgate so efficiently: that a clash of civilisation exists; that the West is at war with Islam; and that Muslims and their identity within their religion are not compatible with Western liberal democracies.

Last March, political columnist Simon Jenkins criticised the BBC's coverage of a terrorist attack in Westminster as "aiding and abetting" terrorists. We should "treat them as criminals", he said. It's a crime that they have committed and it's wrong to shroud it with "clutter" of Islam and politics.

Trump said he was "certainly" considering sending Saipov to the Guantanamo Bay prison facility. At its height, Guantanamo detained over 700 men - most of whom there was little or no evidence against to charge with terrorist activities. Yet the US engaged in a torture programme sanctioned by the highest echelons of the administration.

There remain around 40 prisoners in Guantanamo - but its legacy has been described as a "stain" on America's reputation as a world power. If Trump refills it with more so-called 'terrorists' who should really be described as what they are - criminals - he will do exactly what Saipov, Isil and their type want: exacerbate tensions among communities at a time when racial divisions are at an all-time high.

On Friday, Isil claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the Uzbek was a "soldier of the Caliphate", even though so far there is no direct evidence it was involved in orchestrating the attack.

While Isil has suffered substantial military defeat in Syria and Iraq, resulting in the collapse of the so-called caliphate, it still wields significant influence, particularly among willing jihadis.

The type of "micro-managed" attacks orchestrated by senior commanders of the group, from financing and training of attackers to choice of date, time, target and location, are thankfully happening less frequently.

With Isil on the back foot, it is harder but not impossible to organise such brutality. Instead it has ordered willing participants to engage in crude methods like ramming vehicles into pedestrians and using knives. Their allegiance to Isil is released straight after the attack is over in order for martyrdom to be accepted for the assailant among the group.

The reaction by New Yorkers on Tuesday was remarkable. That the whole city refused to come to a standstill points to perhaps a certain 'terrorism fatigue' where such attacks are so frequent and even expected that they don't evoke the type of fear and shock normally seen.

Scores of attacks by Isil-affiliated members have been confirmed in several cities across the West this year alone. Yet there is no major evidence to suggest that people are not willing to go about their normal lives - whether that be attending concerts, eating in packed restaurants or taking public transport.

In order for terrorism to work, a community needs to be divided and living in dread that their lives are under threat.

Isil is not interested in engaging on any wider, deeper level. It wants to continue to polarise communities. In particular, it wants to divide Muslim communities from the Western cities or countries they are born and live in.

Initiating travel bans and engaging in Islamaphobic rhetoric plays to their message and also inspires others to join.

Last year, London mayor Sadiq Khan said terror attacks were "part and parcel" of living in a big city and urged Londoners to be vigilant but not fazed.

"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," he said.

New Yorkers were right to march on.

Sunday Independent

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