Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts.These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Foreign Correspondent -

View in ParlView

TRANSCRIPT


NEWS REPORT: Midnight in the British city of Manchester where police are responding to what they say is a serious incident at a concert venue.

WOMAN AT CONCERT VENUE: “What’s going on? Oh my God!”

NEWS REPORT: Officers report to an incident amid reports on social media of an explosion.

HAMISH MACDONALD: The attack on Manchester left 22 people dead - 116 people injured. They’d been attending a concert by the American pop-star, Ariana Grande at the Manchester Arena. It became the single deadliest act of terrorism in the UK since the July 7 bombings of 2005.

BOY AT CONCERT: “Massive explosions. It was just loads of chaos and everyone was scared and screaming”. [upset]

HAMISH MACDONALD: The suicide bomber is Salman Abedi, a 22 year old born in Manchester to Libyan parents. They’d fled the Gaddafi regime, this city gave them a home.

ANDY BURNHAM: “After our darkest of nights, Manchester is today waking up to the most difficult of dawns. It is hard to believe what has happened here in the last few hours and to put into words the shock, anger and hurt that we feel today”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: The young, the hopeful, the innocent attacked on a night out. It provoked an outpouring of national grief and for some, that grief soon turned to anger.

[walking along a Manchester street] “The spotlight here turned almost immediately to Manchester’s Muslim population and in particular, the Libyans. These terrorist attacks are designed deliberately to drive a wedge through communities, to pit everyone else against the Muslims and they often work, creating fear and hatred. So that’s why I’ve come here to find out if that’s actually what’s happening in Manchester and to find out how the Muslims themselves are dealing with that”.

It’s summer in Britain. Time to get outside. But this is a divided Britain, a troubled Britain, bruised by elections and Brexit and battered after a run of terrorist attacks. There isn’t a lot to celebrate right now, but there is a desire it seems to come together. Here in Manchester, it’s only now after the story has moved on, the next terrorist attack has happened elsewhere but the city is being left to get on with things, to understand and maybe find meaning in what happened.

JAMES: “Everyone has properly stood together. You know like you’ve had a lot of unity in the face of it really, you know? No one’s really being cowed by terror. Everyone’s standing up altogether”.

OLIVIA: “We’re just such a close community and there’s so much diversity here together and there’s just no hate at all here”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: That’s not quite how everyone sees it here. Far right groups, like the English Defence League have been holding rallies. This one turned violent. In the month after the attack 224 incidences of anti-Muslim hate crimes were reported. That’s an increase of 505% on the same period last year, and it’s not just on the fringes. Britain’s Prime Minister says it’s time to talk about Islam.

PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: “There is to be frank, far too much tolerance of extremism in our country. But it is time to say enough is enough. When it comes to taking on extremism and terrorism, things need to change. That will require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations”.

BETH: “It’s been difficult and some people behave differently to others. So some people are rallying around and fighting spirit and Manchester come on let’s crack on as normal, and other people including me are a little bit I guess taking a lot longer over it”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: “Just explain that to me”.

BETH: “It’s a… it’s a, you know, a huge disaster, followed by huge disaster, followed by huge disaster in the space of three weeks”.

BETH’S FRIEND: “People have been living as these communities together for many years but since the last, I would say the 10 year period, has seen a development which has been unprecedented in that way”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: It’s clear Britain is having something of a moment. Four terrorist attacks in just three months that left many questioning just how tolerant and open this society should be. First the Westminster Bridge attack, then Manchester, the London Bridge attack and then a far right extremist drove a truck into crowds praying at Finsbury Park Mosque.

ANDY BURNHAM: “All around the world we see extremism on the rise. The issue is how do you respond and I think Manchester has shown it’s possible to find a better response”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Andy Burnham once had ambitions to lead Britain’s Labour Party. He recently left national politics to become the first directly elected Mayor of Manchester and he took up the job just weeks before this attack.

“You know Theresa May, putting politics aside, talked about a need to have a tougher conversation. Certainly people we’ve met here have said you know maybe, maybe there is a conversation to be had”.

ANDY BURNHAM: “We do need to have a difficult conversation about what more we can all do to tackle extremism, extremism of any kind, radicalisation. What more can communities do to spot that, to tackle that and be honest about that”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Manchester is a small city, just half a million people so this is one of those places where everybody knows somebody who was there that night. Hundreds of people were caught up in this attack, including 15 year old Sumayya. She’d waited months to see her idol, Ariana Grande.

SUMAYYA: “I was waiting for Ariana Grande to come because I knew she was on tour and then I begged my brother to buy me some tickets. As soon as the show had finished we heard like a loud bang sound, and like I thought was like a balloon or something. Everyone was screaming and I saw someone covered in blood”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Sumayya and Gibran are still processing the impact of that night.

GIBRAN: “I was actually very, very grateful initially, then obviously after that when you start to see the faces of the people who died and it really humanises it and that’s… that’s when it starts to dawn on you that, you know, this is a, this is really a kind of severe thing that we, we’d managed to escape and… and you just feel, feel a lot of pain for the families because there was you know an 8 year old girl which is even younger than my sisters, the second death reported was someone, a male who was 26 and obviously that could have been me”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: “As soon as this terrorist attack happened the conversation almost immediately turned to, to Muslims and to young people being radicalised. How did you interpret that conversation?”

GIBRAN: “It was more than strange, it was kind of hurtful because obviously I fit the description in the sense I’m Muslim male, in my twenties from Manchester so you know there are a few similarities there. And unfortunately that obviously makes other people maybe suspicious of of people who fit my description so when I’m in a crowded place, people might look, look at me suspiciously particularly in the subsequent days after the attack”.

SUMAYYA: “These people they look at me like… like… like… oh yeah you’re Muslim, you must be like a terrorist or something. But I was like no I was a victim of the attack. They attacked me and they say that I’m the same religion like obviously I’m not like part of that”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: “So is that kind of suspicion exactly what the extremists want other Muslims to feel?”

GIBRAN: “I think that’s their aim is to make us feel unwelcom, to make us think that, to divide us and make non-Muslims look at Muslims in a certain way so then, then they obviously use this as propaganda and say you know look at the way they look at you, this isn’t your home. You know you may be born here and brought up here, but this isn’t where you belong, come join us and those sorts of things. One moment you’re a victim and the next you’re a suspect, you know that’s their aim so you just need to be strong and make sure you don’t kind of succumb to that”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Muslims make up 5% of Britain’s population. In Manchester they make up 16% and right now it’s the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Here in the North of England, that means fast doesn’t break until just before 10 pm so these are long days without food or water.

Tonight I’ve been invited to break the fast with the Ben Ghalbon’s, a well-known family of Libyans here in Manchester. Like the family of the bomber Salman Abedi, the Ben Ghalbon’s came here fleeing the regime of Muammar Gadhafi.

HASHEM GHALBON: “When we came we were running away for our lives from a brutal regime that kills its opponents, that hangs people in the streets and does all sorts of things. Manchester asks you for nothing in return. You just sit, enjoy and be a good citizen. So Manchester it ticks all the boxes, Hamish, if you like”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: “And you’re a Man U fan?”

HASHEM GHALBON: “Of course! Of course!

HAMISH MACDONALD: “It’s very clear from talking to you that you’ve had a huge emotional reaction to what’s happened here in Manchester”.

HASHEM GHALBON: “The first thing that came to mind this is, this is our city being terrorised by one of our own and where do you start? It’s just a feeling of shame. So it is time that we do something in return, we do something to counter that and to prevent it from ever happening again, Hamish”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: “Do you think there’s been a sort of naivety or even a wilful ignorance about the realities of what’s going on in the community?”

HASHEM GHALBON: “I think so. I mean now I would have to say there has been a naivety. I mean if anybody has a monster in his own home, he needs to be aware of, of him. Help him, report him, straighten him, whatever it takes”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: I’m interested to know if this is just Hashem’s view, an elder statesman of the local Libyan community, or whether his nephew Abdul from a younger generation thinks the same.

“Between your point of view and those extremist points of view there’s a really broad spectrum of ideas and beliefs, how do you determine the point at which you’ve got to shut that stuff down in Western society?”

ABDUL: “Yeah it’s a hard one because I remember in Didsbury Mosque which is around the corner from us here, in the early 90s at the end of the, I call it the first Afghan war, there was… out, out of nowhere a load of you know Jihadi fighters ended up in Manchester. Very quickly they tried to take the mosque over and tried to impose their ideas and if you didn’t pray a certain way, if you didn’t look a certain way, if you didn’t you know talk a certain way you weren’t a Muslim. Maybe looking back then you think in our naivety we let them have too much if you like, you know we gave them too much benefit of the doubt”.

HASHEM GHALBON: “You have to own up to what happened that was a Libyan who did it, and I think possibly other society is right in telling, hey Libyans you know you have to stand up and be counted here and own up to this”.

ABDUL: “You’re not responsible for it, but it’s been done in your name”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: “So if there is a conversation that needs to be had, what is it?”

HASHEM GHALBON: “You cannot afford to be pacifist or take a back seat and leave the initiative to others. Initiative is taken by radical Muslims who are committing crimes in your name and your religion. Like it or not, it will turn around and you will pay the price”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Something Abdul said over dinner sparked my interest - the Didsbury mosque had been infiltrated by Jihadists back in the 90s. Salman Abedi used to worship here, his father was the Muezzin who performed the call to prayer. Rumours of unchecked radical elements in this mosque have rumbled around for years - but elders deny them, saying they report any extremist views including those of Abedi to the authorities.

But it turns out back in 1989 after the Soviets left Afghanistan, at least 50 jihadist fighters did appear at Didsbury Mosque, many were Libyan. Their influence has been felt here ever since. These original Libyan jihadists were granted asylum in Britain and largely left alone because they, like the British Government, opposed Libya’s dictator, Colonel Gaddafi. And now that’s being repeated all over again.

During the Arab Spring in Libya in 2011, droves of young British Libyan men went off to fight and overthrow Gaddafi. Britain led the NATO intervention with airstrikes, but it needed ground forces to do the real work. Men like Akram who went from Manchester to fight.

“Why were the British authorities so relaxed about people going off to fight in Libya?”

AKRAM: “They know they’re going for a good cause, that’s I think the theory or that’s the ideology at the time that we couldn’t get rid of Gaddafi ourselves, the Libyan had to rise up first”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: We now know some became radicalised while fighting there in Islamist militias so was it a mistake to let them go and then let them come back?

AKRAM: “I don’t think it was a mistake. I think the mistake they made when people come back they didn’t get their brains examined and checked out. I mean anybody who has been to a war zone they need some psychotherapy to find out if he’s gone off the bender or not”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Not everyone who goes off to fight wants to bring the violence back home to Britain, but counter terrorism forces can’t always tell the difference and that carries enormous risk for countries like the UK.

AKRAM: “These type of guys felt isolated between their home and the UK, they’re not accepted in a community here and they’re not accepted back home. Back home they call them white Libyans and when they come here they call them terrorist islamists or fighters or whatever so the lack of social cohesion with them and understanding what’s gone wrong with them, it helps a lot of these recruiters to go in their heads”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Britain’s MI5 has identified 23,000 suspects of interest posing a terrorist threat, but security experts say that is just the tip of the iceberg. After years of failing to deal with extremism, the UK is now reaping the horrors. Victories against ISIS on the ground in the Middle East have led to a heightened state of alert in the West and when attacks do happen, security services play catch up. That means acting fast to arrest and detain suspects.

IMAN: “My name is Iman. I’m from Libya originally and I’ve lived in the UK for over 12 years. It’s what I call home. The raid and the way it happened it’s just repeating itself constantly in my head, like from not being able to sleep to being constantly alert, like… it’s like my brain is just on”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Iman is terrified. She has never told the story of this raid until now.

IMAN: “It was a normal day really. I was kind of semi-awake and just out of no-where, all of a sudden I just hear a massive bang. It was so loud that you couldn’t even tell where it was coming from. I looked down the stairs and I can see people just storming into the house”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: It’s Sunday, 28th of May, 6 days after the suicide bomb went off at the arena. Across Manchester and the region, security services are conducting counter-terrorism raids, desperate to understand if Salman Abedi was acting alone or as part of a network.

IMAN: “They were storming up the stairs and like just the way they looked and like they had masks on and I couldn’t even see their eyes”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Iman is at home alone. Her street is cordoned off. She had gone to the same college as Salman Abedi, but she says she had no contact and no relationship with him.

IMAN: “One of them came in and he told me I was under arrest for being a suspected terrorist. [upset] I was just looking at him like confused like, what are you saying? Like, like how, how am I a suspected terrorist? I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Of the 22 arrested in these raids across Manchester, not a single person was charged.

IMAN: “You could have just knocked on the door. We would have opened. You would have asked as many questions as you wanted, we would have answered and that’s it”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: The British Government wants greater powers to conduct raids and detain terrorism suspects. It also wants Muslim communities to play a bigger role in monitoring extremism.

“Does your experience make you less likely or more likely to do that?”

IMAN: “No I wouldn’t actually do it because I mean if, especially with Salman he was reported five times so we did kind of raise awareness that this person has these extreme views so in a way we are cooperating, we are kind of you know speaking out”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Central to solving this problem of radicalisation in the west is the need for security services to build confidence and trust with Muslim communities. Getting that right is tricky because it’s exactly those relationships that come under pressure every time there’s an attack. It also means looking at root causes like the ideology that underpins groups like ISIS when they preach and recruit and that means talking about Saudi Arabia.

Since the 1960s the Saudi’s are said to have sponsored a multi-million dollar effort to export Wahhabi Islam across the Islamic world, including in Muslim communities in the West. Wahhabism is a strict and overtly conservative interpretation of the faith and in the UK, that Saudi money has built mosques and Islamic schools which in turn have played host to extremist preachers and the distribution of extremist literature.

Now, none of this would be a surprise to the British Government. Downing Street has been sitting on its own report for more than 6 months which details the foreign funding of terrorism and extremism. Its publication is deemed “too sensitive” for a government relying on the sale of billions of dollar’s worth of arms to its Saudi ally.

So what does this mean in reality? On the streets of Manchester it’s the presence of an increasingly conservative version of Islam.

AMINA LONE: “This is not the time to start claiming victimhood. This is a time to be reflective and say we need to take some ownership and actually collectively as a society we need to stand up and address this problem”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: “Amina how difficult is it as a Muslim woman to talk about this stuff and take the positon that you take?”

AMINA LONE: “It is really difficult because you’re personally vilified and you’re de-legitimised as a woman…”

HAMISH MACDONALD: Amina Lone is a politician on the local council. She runs a think tank and she’s a Muslim. She’s prepared to say what few others will, the conservative cultural practices within a faith could be connected to terrorism.

AMINA LONE: “There is a rise of fundamentalism across the globe and actually if you want to say that these people are misrepresenting our faith, then we’ve got to show that our faith isn’t what these people claim to be which is very black and white, very politicised Islam”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Today Amina is taking us to one of the local mosques.

AMINA LONE: “So this is the main road to Whalley Range, a lovely place to kind of live but they are probably the most conservative Muslim community within Manchester, in this area”.

[getting out of car] “Because I need to be covered if I go into the mosque so you have to have your head covered and your face, ah your arms and legs covered and stuff so I will just cover up like this. It should be sufficient”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: “So what are you going to find out now? Whether women are allowed in?”

AMINA LONE: “Yeah just to see is there’s a space for women and kind of what they’re doing, you know kind of see how they interact with us and you know I’m nervous”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: “All right. Let’s see”.

AMINA LONE: “For women there’s always a different entrance. Very, very rarely is it the same entrance. I’ve been to mosques up and down this country and there’s not, and actually I really find that... I find that you know… really objectionable”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Right on cue, the local Imam turns up to greet us.

AMINA LONE SUBTITLES: “I want to see if they had a women’s section and if I can go in?”

IMAM: “For prayers I’m not sure that they have any…”.

AMINA LONE: “Yeah they didn’t before, I mean from what I’ve known, but I just wanted to know if they’d kind of opened it up yet”.

IMAM: “Not that I know… there are a few classrooms upstairs with lady teachers…”.

AMINA LONE: “And normal prayers, you know for you know…”.

IMAM: “The daily congregational prayers, I don’t think there is any ladies coming here at the moment”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: We are invited in but without the camera. We’re told women are welcome here, but in truth there is no designated prayer space for women and they cannot pray with the men.

AMINA LONE: “Yeah he was friendly. I’m just going to take this off because I’m boiling now. He, you know, very friendly, very open. You know what I mean he, they want to be inclusive and they want people to know about it and you could see that he said he didn’t want to misrepresent the mosque or the faith, but again didn’t shake my hand, didn’t make much eye contact with me”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: “And why does that matter? Why is that important? Because there are some that would say well that’s, that’s just how the faith is practised here”.

AMINA LONE: “Because you know, you know what it matters because actually that, that may be how the faith is practised here but then people use that to bash Islam within terms of you oppress your women, that you don’t believe in gender equality”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: “How does that make you feel about your faith?”

AMINA LONE: “It always feels like you’re a second class citizen. You know we wouldn’t tolerate separate entrances for blacks and whites, that was called apartheid you know and yet somehow we kind of turn a blind eye when it’s part of a religious reason and I just don’t think it’s good enough”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: The question of who owns and defines Islam has always been a difficult one for a faith with no central authority, but for Muslims living in the West, events are forcing them to confront that anyway.

AMNA: “We need to be doing something, we need to act on these issues and not be seen to kind of take them for granted, that they just happen and we don’t do anything to help”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Amna is a mother of two and a community psychologist. Together she and her friends are writing letters and poems to the people of Manchester.

AMNA: [reading a note] “You have to find that place that brings out the human in you, the soul in you, the love in you. From Manchester Libyans”.

“We wanted to come together and do a project called “Love Letters to Manchester” so we’re writing messages from all of us, we plan on going into the city centre and basically giving out the scrolls that we’ve created here. I think the biggest problem in terms of these issues has always been, you know, that online radicalisation of how easy it is for young people to go and access incredibly dangerous people”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: “So would you prefer that that sort of extremist online content is just removed altogether from the internet?”

AMNA: “Yeah. I mean I don’t see why it should be in online spaces. If it’s extremists and it’s full of hatred, it shouldn’t be online”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: For any parent explaining and interpreting terrorist attacks to children is a challenge and for Muslim mothers, there’s an added dimension.

AMINA: “My eldest came to me I think she must have been reading some comments on various newspaper channels on line and she said to me, I can understand why they hate us now and I was like, you know, that really… [upset] sorry. I just didn’t know how to kind of deal with it apart from you know giving her that reassurance that you know, that this is nothing to do with us. This isn’t about us. You know this is about an individual who’s a psycho you know nobody could do this unless they were completely unhinged, but I think there’s a lot of work for us to do around young people’s identities in this country, especially when they’re made to sometimes feel that they don’t actually belong here, but actually they do and that’s, that’s what we need to be dealing with”.

[in the park] “We’re doing a project called Love Letters to Manchester and we’re just giving out to people from Manchester a scroll with some letters that were written by Libyan women from Manchester and girls with some candles and just some sweets for everyone”.

HAMISH MACDONALD: I came here to find out what happens after the terror and what we’ve found is a government demanding difficult and embarrassing conversation, all the while, remaining silent on the influence of Saudi money and the fundamentalism it exports here. We’ve found Muslims who genuinely want to engage in difficult debates with the broader community, but still struggle to confront questions over who defines their own faith and how. And in Manchester we found a city still divided on the solutions, but in both grief and in spirit - United.