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Why People Are Saying the Manchester Attack Was an Attack on Girls & Women

People attend a vigil in Albert Square, Manchester, England May 23, 2017, the day after the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande concert that left 22 people dead as it ended on Monday night.
Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

It is unlikely we will ever know the motive behind the terror attack in Manchester that took place on Monday 22nd May, beyond a desire to unleash chaos and destruction. The brutal attack claimed the lives of 22 people, targeting a concert of Ariana Grande, a young female artist, with predominantly young female fans. 

Was this a deliberate plan? To attack women and girls, and everything their freedom symbolises? Various sources have pointed out that the concert was part of Ariana Grande’s tour to promote her album “Dangerous Woman.” Music critics point to the youthful, confident sexuality of her lyrics as well as her self-confessed feminism as a sign of why she and her fans may have been targeted. 

The worldview is that ISIS is deeply misogynistic. Violence against women forms part of their tyrannical ambitions. In its attempt to eliminate the Yazidi people in northern Iraq, 5,000 Yazidi women were captured and forced into sex slavery, repeatedly raped and tortured by soldiers of so-called Islamic State.

Read More: Nadia Murad Tells Her Story — Escaping Sex Slavery to Protect Yazidi Women

In their propaganda, ISIS say women must be married between the ages of nine and 17 — in short, when they are largely still children. The thought of young girls dancing away to music by a liberated young woman is diametrically opposed to their vision of femininity, where a woman or girl is nothing more than property to be abused. From Malala Yousafzai to the Chibok girls, extremists attack girls who simply want to go to school because an educated woman is a liberated woman — a reality they can’t handle. 

Promoting a distorted and violent picture of masculinity, their recruitment strategies for disaffected young men play on desires for strength and glory. 

Deeyah Khan, the Norwegian filmmaker behind the film "Jihad: A British Story", describes the prime targets for ISIS propaganda:  “It’s the kind of men who feel emasculated — small, pathetic, weak,” she tells me. “It allows them a hyper-masculinity because masculinity and violence are so closely linked in our societies. They can put on this persona: ‘I’m a holy warrior. You don’t respect me but you’re afraid of me.’”

Read More: 11 Photos That Show the Best of Humanity After the Manchester Attacks

Still, it is difficult to create a coherent narrative out of any act that strikes so randomly and so cruelly. Ultimately, terrorists want to instil fear and despair through violence. 

In Manchester, they launched an attack that struck women and girls in the midst of a moment designed to celebrate freedom. The attack also took the lives of several men, whose deaths are equally significant. In their statement claiming responsibility for the attack, ISIS referred to the “shameless concert arena,” as though targeting a venue designed for pleasure makes any kind of sense. From schools, to gay clubs, to concert venues, to people at work, to people just walking down the street, fundamentalists target people simply trying to be free, because freedom is the enemy of extremism. 

In the aftermath of such attacks, it’s the stories of people deciding to stand against these threats that remind us of what it means to be human. Of Nadia Murad calling on the UN to investigate ISIS for crimes against humanity, of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped from their classrooms deciding to go back to school, of the people of Manchester coming together in the streets and singing.

It’s people claiming their right to be free, in defiance of those who will stop at nothing to steal this right, even by taking their lives.