Terror attacks on kids are nothing new, and Manchester won’t be the last

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If you are old enough to remember the Cold War-induced fear of nuclear annihilation, then you’re probably at least passingly familiar with Sting’s operatic anti-war ballad, Russians.

“We share the same biology, regardless of ideology,” he implores the frightened citizens of Europe and America (and presumably Australia), over the soaring melody sampled from late Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev.


Manchester: ‘A community that sticks together’

Reporting from Manchester, Fairfax’s Nick Miller says while the spirit of the city remains strong, there are fears about an organised terrorist cell still operating.

“What might save us, me and you,” Sting concludes, “is if the Russians love their children, too.”

Earnest and schmaltzy it may be, but I’ve never forgotten the lyrics. Perhaps it’s because I was a child myself, barely 10 but, like Sting’s own son, already struggling to fathom the existence of a weapon that could wipe us all out.

Russians was a huge hit because few things inflame our protective instincts like threats to the safety of children. And this instinct likely accounts for much of the inflammatory rhetoric in the wake of the bombing following Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester earlier this week.

While conservative pundits adopted their usual take-no-prisoners approach, with Quadrant editor Roger Flanagan lamenting the bomb should have been detonated at the ABC, and British columnist Katie Hopkins calling for a “final solution” to the Muslim problem, the impact was felt across the political spectrum.

Within hours, op-eds by more liberal writers also employed highly emotive language as they confidently deconstructed an event they had almost no verified information on, ascribing motives to a perpetrator not yet identified. It was without a doubt, an attack on girls. And definitely on LGBTIQ because Ariana Grande is a gay icon. Also, this was clearly a message to sexually active women.

While it’s hard to look past the youth of Grande’s fan base, the many articles competing for attention the day after the tragedy all seemed to have one thing in common, heralding a new direction in global terror:

“Innocence was murdered in Manchester on Monday night.”

“Manchester attack was a sickening new low.”

“A way to offend humanity on an even more grotesque level.”

This is untrue. Targeting children is not new. Back in September 2004, Chechen rebels stormed a school in Beslan, taking more than 1000 people hostage. A showdown with the Russian government eventually killed 330, including 186 children.

But it’s really in the past few years that the targeting of children has become pronounced. Just over a month ago, the residents of two Syrian villages, Foua and Kefraya, having survived two years of siege and starvation by rebel forces, were waiting to board evacuation buses when a suicide bomber drove his car into them.

“There was a car distributing potato chips,” one witness recounted. “The children started to chase the car and it exploded.”

Eighty children died that day.

That attack followed the 2013 bombing of a school in government-controlled Homs that exploded as children were leaving for the day, killing 41, and a 2013 suicide attack on another school that killed six children.

Children are no safer outside Syria. In October 2013, a suicide bomber blew up a truck in the playground of an Iraqi primary school, killing 13 children and their headmaster; and in the worst massacre of children since Beslan, Taliban fighters scaled the walls of a school compound in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2014, shooting 141 children and staff.

That’s not the only way terrorist groups are betraying the very concept of childhood. As I’ve previously written, children are increasingly used as “suicide bombers” and a 2016 video reportedly shows two Syrian girls – one seven, the other nine – just before they were strapped with suicide belts by their father, the leader of the rebel group Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.   

I do not mention these previous tragedies to take away from the current one engulfing Manchester. To the contrary, by looking at the commonalities of the tactics extremist groups adopt wherever they operate, we can begin to understand how and why this keeps happening.

The attacks on Western targets are increasingly difficult to comprehend, partly because they seem to lack a clear purpose. Terrorism was so-called because it was a strategy of creating fear in order to achieve a political goal, the terror was a means to an end. Now it appears the carnage is an end in itself.

If there is a purpose, it is to drive deeper that wedge already jammed between Muslims and the West. Arabs and Muslims will again be cast as uniquely evil, so evil, they even attack children. Something must be done. But, what is “done” is usually more Western involvement in the Middle East. More war, which only entrenches and spreads fundamentalism.

“There is no monopoly on common sense, on either side of the political fence,” Sting notes grimly in Russians. And still these words hold true. The cliches of “they hate us for our freedoms” and “clash of civilisations” do not explain our situation.

How seriously can we take Donald Trump or any Western leader on their promises to “keep us safe” when the US has just signed the biggest arms deal in history with Saudi Arabia?

This is the oppressive theocracy that both Trump and Hillary Clinton linked to terrorism, that is currently waging a war on its poverty-stricken neighbour Yemen in what the UN calls the world’s biggest humanitarian catastrophe, and that uses its vast oil wealth to spread its repressive Wahhabi ideology all over the world, the very ideology followed by most extremist Islamist groups.

Our leaders talk peace even as they trade in war.

“There is no such a thing as a winnable war,” Sting crooned more than 30 years ago. This applies to the war on terror, perhaps even more than the nuclear war to which he was referring.

There is no way out of this cycle but to stop subscribing to the empty rhetoric of Western and Arab Muslim leaders alike, who claim to abhor terrorism even as they keep the supply of terrorist ideology and weaponry flowing.

How could these terrorists target children? Because in their world view, anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their fundamentalism is fair game, and that applies to Muslims as well as non-Muslims.

These attacks can happen to any of us and we must let our shared grief unite us, because Sting was wrong about one thing: it will not save us to love only our own children, we must also love each other’s.  

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