The pattern has become all too familiar. Young people gathered for a musical event find themselves subjected to what British Prime Minister Theresa May has described as an “appalling terrorist attack”.
While there is no confirmation as yet this was a terrorist-inspired incident, police suspect the Manchester attack, which has so far killed 22 people and injured 59 others, was caused either by a bomb contained in an abandoned backpack, or was the work of a suicide bomber.
At this stage no group has claimed responsibility. But it is not being overlooked that last week Islamic State released a 44-minute video in which fighters of different nationalities urged their supporters back home to carry out acts of violence.
Among those featured was a British man.
What makes Islamic State more dangerous – even desperate – in the current climate is that it finds itself under enormous pressure in its strongholds in Iraq and in Syria. Its grip on the northern Iraqi city of Mosul is slipping, and it is under threat in its Syrian redoubt of Raqqa.
It is important not to jump to conclusions about the identity of those responsible. However, whatever judgements might be made about the carnage at a Manchester music hall, this latest bombing underscores the vulnerability of European cities to such acts of violence.
Underscoring the deep-seated shock this will be causing in Britain is that this is the worst terrorism-related episode since the 2005 public transport bombings in London in which 52 people died.
Since 2015, more than half-a-dozen terrorist attacks have been carried out in various European locations, including France, Germany, Belgium and Britain, and in the case of several of these countries there have been multiple incidents.
What the governments of Europe have on their hands are threats to personal security that can strike at any time and in any place, as various terrorist incidents in the past year or so have demonstrated.
This poses an enormous challenge to security agencies, including the police, and, in the case of Britain, MI5, the spy agency responsible for internal security.
Such random acts of terrorism are enormously difficult, if not impossible, to counter unless open societies are subjected to security measures that most citizens would find difficult to accept.
If it proves to be the case the Manchester bombing was carried out by a sole suicide bomber, or a bomb-laden backpack placed strategically, this would underscore difficulties in policing a musical event in which large numbers of people gather in a specific location.
While France has been the main victim of a wave of terrorism in the past several years, Britain is running second.
In the most recent incident prior to the Manchester bombing, the driver of a vehicle mowed down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then shot a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament.
The concert hall attack in Manchester recalls a similar episode in Paris at a the Bataclan concert hall in November 2015 when shootings caused multiple deaths.
Islamic State claimed responsibility on that occasion.
What is adding to political complexities of the Manchester bombing is that it comes in the middle of a British election campaign in which immigration and Britain’s withdrawal from Europe are central questions.
How this will play out in the next days and weeks is difficult to assess, but as a rule of thumb such incidents would be more likely to benefit the parties of the right than the left.
On the other hand, governments in power and therefore responsible for security inevitably face awkward questions about levels of preparedness for such terrorist incidents, if indeed that is what we are talking about in the case of the Manchester bombing.
Terrorist violence is now baked into the European landscape. It is hard to see an end to this.
* Note: This story has been updated to reflect the latest information on fatalities.
Just when the Western world had absorbed the shock of a truck attack in Berlin in December that claimed 12 lives, it is reminded again of the dangers of “lone-wolf” attacks inspired by Islamic State (IS) that are almost impossible to guard against.
When a sole attacker drove randomly across London’s Westminster Bridge towards the Houses of Parliament – one of the most trafficked thoroughfares in the Western world – killing and maiming innocent bystanders, it served as a reminder, if that were required, that open, global cities are vulnerable to such attacks.
These are moments that serve as a reality check for those in authority who are striving to maintain a balance between oppressive policing and surveillance and a free society. This is enormously challenging in an environment in which strains of fanaticism have been let loose.
Regrettably, the London terrorist attack leading to five deaths, including the perpetrator and a policeman, will find its way into a racially tinged political discourse – and not in a way that will be particularly edifying.
But there is also no point in pretending that mayhem in the Middle East can be separated from what takes place on the streets of London or Brussels or Berlin or Nice, or in other places that become victims of continuing upheaval in a crescent that stretches from the Mediterranean to South Asia.
Now that the weapon of choice for lone-wolf terrorists seems to have become a vehicle to mow down people innocently going about their business, a policing task becomes even more difficult.
Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert, noted in a post for CNN that as long ago as 2010, al Qaeda’s Yemen branch had encouraged its recruits in the West to use vehicles as weapons.
A headline on its webzine, Inspire, had described vehicles as “the ultimate mowing nachine” – not to “mow grass, but mow down the enemies of Allah”. He wrote:
These attacks are hard to defend against in free societies where crowds will gather, as was the case for Bastille Day in Nice, or the Christmas market in Berlin … and now throngs of tourists and visitors that typically crowd the sidewalks around the Houses of Parliament.
The utter cynicism and brutality of these random low-tech attacks pose enormous challenges for security.
This latest episode will not be the last such vehicle attack with the possibility that something much worse might eventuate, including the detonation of a truck packed with explosives and shards of shrapnel. Open Western cities will always be vulnerable to these sorts of attacks.
The threat of IS-inspired terrorism is now embedded in Western societies. It is no good pretending it is not.
Since 2014, when IS proclaimed its caliphate, there have been more than 70 terrorist attacks “conducted or inspired” by its followers in 20 countries (not including Syria and Iraq), according to a running total kept by CNN.
If Syria and Iraq were added, such terrorist attacks would number in the hundreds.
In 2014, CNN lists seven terrorist incidents, including the stabbing of two Australian police officers in New South Wales. Six died and 12 were injured in 2014, in Belgium, Australia, Canada, the US and France.
That was the beginning.
By 2016, the numbers of casualties from IS-inspired terrorism had risen sharply across the Middle East and in Europe. This included the Brussels bombings at a metro station and an airport, in which 32 people died and 340 were injured.
It is not least of macabre coincidences that the London terrorist attack occurred on the first anniversary to the day of the Brussels bombings.
So far this year, there have been five major incidents. Most, if not all, are linked to IS.
London was the first such episode in continental Europe. The others occurred in Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Out of all this, it is a depressing conclusion, but as IS in its strongholds in Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria is further degraded, chances are it will step up its terrorist activities elsewhere.
In other words, risks to countries involved in the war against IS will rise as its fortunes in its so-called caliphate slide. IS is on the ropes in its Middle Eastern strongholds. This makes it more dangerous to Western interests.
In London, and among Britain’s allies, political leaders have hastened to express solidarity, but all would be aware that such ritualistic professions of support and concern will not provide a foolproof shield against the next Islamist-inspired terrorist attack.
The question is not if, but when and where.
The link below is to an article reporting on persecution news from the United Kingdom.
This is part of a series examining Australian national identity, especially around the ongoing debate about Australia Day.
It is worth noting that Australia Day commemorates the dumping of a cargo of the outcasts of Britain on the shores of the Australian continent. It was not an act of escaping religious oppression, as in the case of America, or the founding of a new political order, as in France.
British Australia was the creation of an imperial decision. This meant that strong links to Britain, and the British monarchy, continued well into the 20th century. There were occasional republicans who advocated a so-called independent Australia, particularly in the 19th century, but, if anything, enthusiasm for the British Empire increased in the first half of the 20th century.
Australians were Australians, but they were also British. There was the proud boast that Australians were more “British” than the inhabitants of London. This, of course, was probably true given that London attracted people from all over the empire and was cosmopolitan in a way that Australia was not.
The early settlers were British in a very Australian way. Australianness was embedded in their Britishness; the two were not in conflict. In celebrating Australia Day they were celebrating themselves and their peculiar Australian way. Such celebrations could not be construed as indicating a desire to be rid of the monarchy or the empire.
The “cultural cringe” may be important for Barry Humphries and other literary figures who attended Melbourne private schools but, as Len Hume has argued, ordinary Australians of the first half of the 20th century had a lively popular culture, including great comic figures such as Roy Rene and Lennie Lower.
Moreover, Australians felt a great deal of solidarity with their British cousins. Consider the following quote:
Australians know that our future is linked with Britain, not only by ties of race and kinship, but because of hard, practical reasons.
No, the speaker was not Robert Menzies but Ben Chifley in 1948.
Witness the massively popular reception of the new monarch, Queen Elizabeth, when she visited Australia in 1954.
In 1950, Britain was still taking 38.7% of Australia’s exports, which dropped to 26% by 1960. Even in the 1950s, a strong connection between Australia and Britain made a lot of sense.
By that time, though, it had become clear that the British Empire was no longer a going concern, and that Britain’s time as a significant world power had come to an end. The old relationship between Australia and Britain was changing, and Australia was turning its political allegiances more to the US and its trade to Asia.
There was no reason before the second world war to presume that, 25 years later, there would no longer be a British Empire and that Britain would be seeking to “join Europe”.
I think that it can be argued that it came as a shock and that the history of Britain over the past 50 years can be understood, at least in part, as an attempt to deal with its loss of “greatness”. Last year’s Brexit vote indicates that the British have not yet come to terms with their new place in the world.
The shock of the post-war decline of the British Empire was also great for Australia. Cut adrift from empire, it had to refashion and remake itself. It most certainly continued to have a political, social and cultural heritage derived from Britain, but it was moving away and increasingly forming its own, separate identity.
Trade ties were diminished and large numbers of immigrants from many parts of the world arrived, reshaping the country. The bonds of solidarity with Britain so obvious to Chifley in 1948 would only puzzle a young Australian in 2017.
Again, like Britain, much of the history of Australia over the past 50 years has been an attempt to come to terms with the end of empire. Many solutions have been proposed, and tried, ranging from the new nationalism of the Whitlam years, to multiculturalism, to the idea that Australia is part of Asia. Or even a mixture of all three. And then, of course, there is the continuing issue of the place of Indigenous Australians.
Australia has still not worked out its place in a post-imperial world. It knows that it cannot be another US; Australia doesn’t possess the resources to support 300 million people. It knows that the ties with Britain will only get weaker over time. There appears still to be much anxiety about where we belong, when what is needed is a clear, sober and realistic approach to the past and the present.
Australia Day celebrates the origins of British Australia and, in a sense, can be understood as an imperial creation. In more recent times, it has become a celebration of Australian popular culture, marked by barbecues and the donning of clothing marked by the Australian flag. Is this a sign that the day has lost its relevance?
Perhaps one of the most attractive elements of Australian history since 1788 is the fact that so many of its people, at least in the early days, were the cast-offs of British society who had to make their way in an alien world that they were forced to call home.
Perhaps because of this, Australia developed a vigorous popular culture from the bush ballads to The Bulletin and beyond. There is a lot to be said for celebrating Australian ordinariness, which surely goes beyond its imperial roots.
Catch up on other pieces in the series here.
The UK has voted to leave the European Union but even before all the votes were counted volatility made its way across Asian markets and to Australia.
The S&P ASX200 has finished 3.3% down at the close, wiping off approximately $50 billion in value, while the Australian dollar has dropped 3.4% to 73.4 US cents.
Richard Holden, Professor of Economics at UNSW says the volatility is likely to continue at least for another 24 hours.
“We could see volatility, perhaps not as extreme as the current levels, for a really extended period of time,” Professor Holden says.
One of the major factors in this will be how affected UK banks and therefore Australian banks will be by this decision, as they rely on short term funding for their operations.
“If those markets start to dry up and there’s uncertainty about their funding getting rolled over, one day to the next, then that’s when things can go pear shaped within an incredibly short period of time,” he adds.
The position of hedge funds, banks and other financial institutions in betting on currencies in over-the-counter markets (not regular currency markets) in times like this, also adds to the uncertainty.
“Basically we don’t know, what we don’t know and suddenly there’s a liquidity crunch and someone gets into trouble and that has flow-on effects like we saw in 2008,” Professor Holden says.
He also warns that a drop in the Australian dollar shows that money could flow out of Australia and back to the UK as financial institutions there change their positions.
In the longer term, Brexit could affect the way Australian companies trade with the European Union through the UK.
“All of a sudden that’s going to be more complicated, it’s going to have to go through under some new trade agreement and we know that a series of bilateral trade agreements are always more complicated and have more nuance than large multilateral trade agreements,” Professor Holden says.
All this comes as Australia goes into the last week of an election campaign and this volatility will keep economic management top of mind for Australian voters.
“I don’t think either side of politics in Australia has an exclusive right to say they are going to be the best economic managers, I guess we’ll have to wait and see about that as well.”