An Open Letter to Andy Burnham

27 May
An Open Letter to Andy Burnham

Dear Mr Burnham,

I’m writing this because I wish to acknowledge your remarkable achievement on BBC’s Question Time on 25th May 2017. Only two days prior to your appearance, I woke up to the news that a young man had strolled into a pop concert being held at the Manchester Arena and detonated a suicide bomb in a crowd of primarily teenaged girls and their parents. My initial reaction was to be overcome by a mixture of painful emotions. Outrage. Grief. Disgust. Devastation. Followed by a tidal wave of unbridled, unimaginable anger. Your achievement, Mr Mayor, is to have made me feel even more apoplectic than I did already. To increase the rage that I already felt upon finding out that children had been murdered en masse, should have been a truly impossible task. And yet you managed it. Effortlessly.

You’re probably wondering how you came to inadvertently accomplish this extraordinary feat. Well, allow me to explain.

We are currently at war with an ideology that is destabilising a large part of the Middle East and driving its adherents to commit largescale atrocities in scores of countries around the world. In the West, Europe in particular is suffering an onslaught of violent atrocities at the hands of subscribers to this ideology. This latest bloodbath, in the city you call home, was the deadliest we have been subjected to since 2005. You may remember that in 2005, four members of this same ideology massacred 52 commuters in our capital city, and wounded over 700 more. The attack in Manchester however, was somewhat unique in its savagery. It targeted young girls dancing and listening to music, and the location of this attack was almost certainly chosen for that precise reason. You see, the ideology I speak of is not too keen on girls, or females in general for that matter. But it particularly abhors girls who enjoy life, who love music, who are not slaves to retrograde theology, and who live carefree existences in countries that ostensibly reject the values of this poisonous ideology.

The ideology I speak of, Mr Mayor, has its roots in the religion of Islam. In fact it is Islam, or it at least has a reasonable enough claim to be Islam. It is a direct, literal, plausible interpretation of the scriptures of Islam, the example of its Prophet, and the rulings of its authorities. It may be an interpretation of Islam that is rejected by some sizable number of the worlds Muslims, but it is an interpretation of Islam nevertheless. And it is this interpretation of Islam that is the primary driving force behind the behaviour of the people who subscribe to it.

In my naivety, I had hoped that the viciousness and callousness of this most recent attack would have been a turning point in our reaction towards it. “We can’t possibly run interference for this ideology again” I thought. “Not this time. Our collective reaction can’t be the usual exasperating medley of denial and equivocation. We can’t use the brutal slaughter of children to focus on the imaginary Islamophobic backlash that never arrives. And we can’t possibly keep celebrating the fact that we get on with our day to day lives after every single one of these attacks upon us, can we?” Of course we get on with our lives. What the fuck else are we supposed to do? We get through our days by clenching our fists, gritting our teeth, and baring it. Because we have to. Because there are no other options. This is not a cause for celebration. There is no cause for celebration at a time like this. Not the coming together of communities. Not the so-called spirit of defiance. Not the British stiff upper lip. None of it. We’re crushed.

Yet, there you were, in front of the nation, expressing your desire to scrap the government’s Prevent program and replace it with some theoretical counter-extremism initiative that doesn’t make Muslims feel uncomfortable. Do you have a plan for how you would go about devising such a miraculous program? Is it even possible? I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but the list of things that don’t make some subsection of Muslims feel alienated, or in any way picked upon, could be written on a plate glass window with a pneumatic drill.

Your objection to Prevent seems to be that “Prevent works on the principle that the Muslim community in particular is under suspicion – under surveillance”. According to Sara Khan, your co-panellist, that’s simply not true. Prevent doesn’t deal with surveillance of anyone. Surveillance is covered under Pursue, a different strand of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. And maybe Pursue does indeed focus more on the Muslim community at present. Well, I for one would be extremely concerned if it didn’t. Because the Muslim community in particular is where the bulk of the threat is coming from currently, isn’t it? At the time of writing, there have been eleven arrests in relation to the Manchester atrocity. Are you able to divulge how many of those arrested, if any, were not from the Muslim community? Can you tell me how many deadly terror attacks in this country in the last 12 years have been committed by people from communities other than the Muslim community? Can you tell me how many fatalities they caused? Can you tell me if they’ve ever blown white-hot nails through schoolgirls faces? Our focus should be proportionate, based on who poses the greatest current threat, surely. If there were a global insurgency of Quakers attempting to transport the world back to the Bronze Age via the method of brutally murdering as many people as humanly possible, I would hope that counter-extremism strategy would adjust its focus accordingly.

(Prevent) can actually become counter-productive and it can actually radicalise if people feel they are being picked upon” you say. You seem to think very little of moderate, liberal, secular Muslims if you believe that they could be so easily swayed to support indiscriminate terror attacks or even commit them themselves. Or perhaps you’re right, and we really are in the terrifying situation you describe with regards to the Muslim community. Are you aware of the American neuroscientist Sam Harris? He has addressed this argument:

The idea I’m about to describe is almost unrivalled in its strangeness, and yet those hearing it for the first time, to say nothing of those who espouse it, never seem to notice that something out of the ordinary is being said. Now, you’ve heard this idea before and I will venture to guess that you did not notice how strange, and indeed terrifying a claim was being made. The idea is this; in fighting ISIS, or in resisting the spread of Islamic theocracy generally, we must at all costs avoid “confirming the narrative” of Islamic extremists. The fear is that any focus on the religion of Islam or its adherents…will drive many more Muslims to support the jihadists. Now think about what is actually being alleged here. Think about the underlying pessimism, if not paranoia, of this claim. Most people appear to believe that by honestly describing the link between the doctrine of Islam and jihadism, and therefore admitting that Islam is of special concern in a way that Anglicanism and Mormonism aren’t, that we will provoke otherwise peaceful Muslims to such a degree that they will become jihadists, or support them. They’re just like you and me now, but say the wrong thing about Islam on television and they’ll start supporting a group that decapitates journalists and aid workers, rapes women by the tens of thousands, and throws gays from rooftops. Now, this is either one of the most pessimistic and uncharitable things ever said about a community, or it’s true. And if it’s the former we should stop saying it. And if it’s the latter, we should be talking about nothing else, and obliging Muslims to talk about nothing else.”

You seem confused as to what motivates this behaviour. The fact of the matter, Andy, is that The Islamic State have been unusually vocal and explicit in explaining repeatedly, and in painstaking detail, exactly what motivates their behaviour. It is child’s play to track down justifications for their actions in their own words. Sara Khan attempted to quote you their own words from the magazine Dabiq which is written and published by the Islamic State. Do you read Dabiq? You should. It reads like a religious sermon. I’ve read it. In fact I’ve read, and written about exactly the same article that Khan was reading from. They are absolutely unequivocal in their proclamations that foreign policy is not their primary grievance with us. Their concerns are, first and foremost, religious. They justify their every action with meticulous reference to the Qu’ran and Ahadith. Yet you instinctively dismissed Khan, and by extension, ISIS’s explanations for their own behaviour, out of hand. I expressed my frustration at this attitude on Twitter. Interestingly enough, two people who registered their agreement with me stood out for rather significant reasons.

Do you know who these people are Mr Burnham? Both Usama Hasan and Manwar Ali are former jihadists. Ali was labelled the Godfather of the British Jihadi Movement. Since renouncing extremism and jihadism he admits that as well as fighting in Afghanistan, Burma, Kashmir and Bosnia “I inspired and recruited, I raised funds and bought weapons, not just a one-off but for 15 to 20 years. Why I have never been arrested I don’t know.”

These people know what motivates jihadists, and they know this through direct personal experience. And yet, your response is the following collection of strawmen arguments, logical fallacies, and maddening clichés:

The individuals who commit these acts…do not live a devout Muslim lifestyle. They’re not true Muslims in any way shape or form and … they no more represent the Muslim community than the person who killed Jo Cox represents the white British community.”

You made this statement to a round of thunderous applause regardless of the fact that it is fatuous on every conceivable level. Ironically, your accusations that jihadists are not “true Muslims”, whatever the hell that means, is an exercise in Takfirism. This is something ISIS themselves are fond of doing as a justification for murdering other Muslims they deem impious. Even more ironically, you racialize and otherize Muslims by using them as an antonym for white and British. This is something racists like the murderer of your friend Jo Cox are fond of doing. Neither white nor British are ideologies, and as such are not responsible for the behaviour of people that fall into those arbitrary categories. Either way, nobody suggested that jihadists represent the Muslim community in the first place, so your entire monologue was irrelevant.

The gentleman to your left, Nazir Afzal, proceeded to tell a trite and tiresome anecdote about a wannabe jihadist, on Hijrah to the caliphate, packing a copy of the book Islam 4 Dummies in his luggage. I suspect that you would consider this incontrovertible proof that ISIS are not religious, or that the people drawn to them are attracted for reasons other than the what they believe to be theologically true. If that’s the case, you’re wrong. It proves nothing of the sort and in fact proves precisely the opposite. I’m not sure why you need this pointing out to you, but if Islam was unimportant there would be no need for this aspiring psychopath to make a point of bringing any book about it. Why didn’t he have a copy of Calculus for Dummies, for example? Or the collected works of L. Ron Hubbard? Or 50 Shades of Grey? This is the behaviour of a believer, swatting up on the technicalities, taking a refresher course on the small print, before the ‘final exam’. Because he won’t get to re-sit this test. Failure, with regards to saying the wrong thing or inadvertently contravening some obscure and archaic Islamic prohibition, would likely result in him having his head sawed off with a dull knife by people who consider that sort of thing a form of blasphemy or apostasy.

Most insultingly of all though, was the dismissal of the intrepid audience member (who I’ve since discovered is Baguley UKIP candidate Paul O’Donoghue) who had taken it upon himself to visit Didsbury Mosque, Mr Abedi’s mosque of choice, and discovered that among the literature that they distribute to their attendees, were clear examples of extremist propaganda. Were you aware that this mosque dispenses Salafist pamphlets decrying Western civilisation and liberal British values, Mr Mayor? If not, do you perhaps think that now may be an opportune moment to look into the kind of material being circulated by the Didsbury Mosque and Islamic Centre? Or does your insistence that Islamic terrorists have nothing to do with Islam render this fact irrelevant?

I’ve personally spent very little time in Manchester. I attended a football match at Old Trafford once and, on another occasion, spent a week in and around the pubs and bars of Deansgate Lock. You, however, are the Mayor of the entire county, Mr Burnham. With this in mind, can you honestly tell me with a straight face, that you’re proud of your performance on Question Time? Are you not ashamed in the slightest, that you sat in front of studio audience comprised of people that had just suffered the U.K’s deadliest terror attack in 12 years, and clearly prioritised the defence of the ideology that inspired it over the welfare of these people? And does it not concern you in any way that you did this whilst fumbling through a list of clichéd responses, all the while illustrating a painful lack of knowledge of the topic you were addressing?

The fact that we are this far down the line, 16 years since 9/11, and the debate still hasn’t moved on, makes me think it never will. We will be trapped in this debate, still discussing the motives of jihadists and how we can best avoid hurting the feelings of innocent Muslims, until we all lose decisively. Until we’re having to pick shrapnel out of our own children’s mangled bodies, or until they’re having to pick it out of ours. Until we’re all on our knees, modelling the latest line in orange jumpsuits. And it will be in large part due to people like yourself.

The people of Manchester have some pretty serious problems to overcome at the moment Andy. We all do. I now realise that we have one more.





19 responses to “An Open Letter to Andy Burnham

  1. Interconnect

    May 27, 2017 at 9:12 am

  2. Sanguine

    May 27, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Perfect KO. Hitchens would be proud.

    • Frances M Thompson

      May 28, 2017 at 12:08 am

      Let Mr Burham have it with both barrels, however I don’t think it will serve one iota of purpose or good! Why because Andy Burnham is so thick skinned and he is an opportunist Politician. He supports anything that will gain him leverage up the greasy pole of Politics. Take for example Hillsborough and Orgreave. On both of those, the enquiry and proposed enquiry, just like some other Politicians it was a case of jumping on the ‘Bandwagon’. Recently he was being interviewed, it was all about what he had done, visiting the hospitals to see the injured from the Terrorist Attack, Andy Burnham is for Andy Burnham and his career!

  3. sandallk

    May 27, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    Fantastic piece well written

  4. Matt Ardron

    May 27, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    No politician will ever accept the blame for anything it is always some one else to blame. They now have no idea of what to do about the Islamic problem we are facing, very few of them are even prepared to discuss it or admit that it exists. We desperately need a Government that comes clean about the severity of this problem and has the courage to do something about it. Shall we get one I doubt it very much.

    • Alexsandr Three (@alexsandr_three)

      June 14, 2017 at 11:49 am

      they are shit scared of what they have done. it is now so out of control they cant conceive of any viable fix. Can you imagine the reaction from Muslims if the police were to actually enforce the law properly? At at the end of Ramadan we will see another mas law break when they illegal and inhumanely slaughter animals in the street.

  5. Michael J Bates

    May 27, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Thank you for this. Much needed.

  6. a

    May 27, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    Brilliant piece, very well written and very accurate. Every Newspaper no matter what party they support should print this on the front page. However they won’t.

  7. Brian Rudman

    May 28, 2017 at 4:41 am

    Very well written but I doubt very much if Burnham would have read past the first line, you will never change these people, you just have to oust them from power. The fact is that after June 8th, he will be after the Party leadership together with Sadiq Khan and one of them will probably win. You think it can’t get any worse ? This Bullsh*t has only just started.

  8. Stephen

    May 28, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Brilliantly written and to the point. Sadly, Burnham was just a failed opportunist politician who is now an ineffective Mayor and an apologist for Islam and may as well convert and probably will if he thinks it will ensure reelection.

  9. James Belford

    May 28, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Time for Andy and his deluded ,party .to wake up and smell the coffee

    • Ruth

      June 13, 2017 at 11:07 pm

      Couldn’t agree more

  10. Colin leadbetter

    May 28, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    Excellent piece and it needed to be said. Thank you.

  11. James Rist

    May 29, 2017 at 7:50 am

    Wonderfully written and surgically precise. If more and more people in the general public speak openly and honestly about this problem maybe we can drag the politicians and the media along with us. The time for silence is over.

  12. Victoria Gott

    May 29, 2017 at 10:04 am

    Superbly written; and true in every sense.

  13. David

    May 29, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Agree. Only thing I’d add (unless I missed it in your blog post) is that an addition important factor in all this relates to numbers. If you have say 2000 Muslims in a town or city, there is more chance of integration, or at least a hope of that. If you have 20000, then not only does a parallel society exist (especially due to the radically different culture of Islam compared to our own), but it is far, far easier for jihadists to hide, plot and recruit away from the eyes of larger society and from the police.

  14. David

    May 29, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    I forgot to say, in case you missed it, there is a very good article on the background to Abedi’s attack, in – surprisingly – The Guardian. Not sure if links are allowed in these comments. If not, just search for ‘How Manchester bomber Salman Abedi was radicalised by his links to Libya’ by Jamie Doward and other journalists. I’m sure you’ll find it very interesting, and no doubt depressing. It includes quite a bit on Didsbury Mosque.

  15. Ruth

    June 13, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    Just another liberal rant from Burnham.. soft on terrorism and its causes!😡

  16. keithellerby

    June 14, 2017 at 9:18 am

    I wish I was as eloquent when posting my concerns. A great article thank you. I hope you don’t mind but here is the text of an email I sent to all 3 candidates for the constituency only 2 of them could be bothered to reply and as expected the responses showed exactly the same mindset as Andy Burnham. I have removed any information that can identify where I live.

    To all candidates for Thursday’s election to Parliament for the **************************** constituency

    As you are after our votes in response to the latest atrocity (I know it has not been confirmed who carried out the attack yet, it does follow the same format as other attacks by Islamists around the world) how many more innocent people are you going to accept as deaths and casualties before you openly challenge, or more to the point actually look into the ideology behind these attacks?

    London Bridge – 7 dead 48 injured
    Manchester – Ariana Grande Concert attack – 22 dead 119 injured
    London – Westminster Bridge & Houses of Parliament – 5 dead 29 injured.

    Those 3 attacks have accounted for 34 dead and 99 injured in 74 days in the UK alone.

    In May alone there were, worldwide, 207 attacks (42 of which were suicide bombings) killing 1479 innocent people, injuring 1656 innocent people, in 26 different countries. All carried out by people following the same ideology yet we keep telling ourselves that it is poverty, alienation, western foreign policy, Israeli occupation/treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza strip, mental health or anything as long as we don’t challenge the actual ideology behind those attacks.

    Hashtags, candlelight vigils, teddy bears, and changing our avatars to reflect the flag of the affected nation will not prevent the next attack. Did the #bringbackourgirls recover a single one of the young girls abducted from the School in Chibok, Nigeria? It was even supported by Michelle Obama but achieved nothing.

    The only way we can stop the attacks is to challenge and expose the ideology that lays behind it. If that upsets any particular section of society maybe that says more about that section of society than it does those challenging the ideology behind the terror attacks. If that section of society is genuinely peaceful it will not have a problem with their deepest beliefs being challenge, in fact they should welcome a genuine investigation of those beliefs as a way of showing that their beliefs are really peaceful and that the perpetrators are genuinely perverting a peace loving religion.

    I really hope that you will all respond but in all honesty and sadly I don’t expect that I will receive a response

    Thank you for reading.


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