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Examining The Impact The Manchester Attack Will Have On Britain


Last night, the pop star Ariana Grande was holding a concert in Manchester, England. The audience was full of the singer's teenage fan base. After the concert, a bomber detonated an improvised explosive device killing at least 22 people, injuring more than 50. Police say children are among the dead. British politicians who are in the middle of an election campaign have suspended their campaigning. British Prime Minister Theresa May address the nation this morning.


THERESA MAY: The police and security services believe that the attack was carried out by one man. But they now need to know whether he was acting alone or is part of a wider group. The police and security services believe they know the identity of the perpetrator. But at this stage of their investigations, we cannot confirm his name.

GREENE: Let's talk now with David Rennie. He is the Washington bureau chief for The Economist magazine. He's in our studios this morning. Hey, David.

DAVID RENNIE: Good morning.

GREENE: So Britain is no stranger to terror attacks. What are you seeing from the prime minister and from the country and how do we expect this country to react here?

RENNIE: I think you see - I mean, Manchester itself - it's a big British city - is no stranger to terror attacks. It's also been a city where there's been a lot of debate about things to do with multiculturalism. And I mean, we don't know the identity of the bomber. But you're seeing a very strong pushback at the idea that Britain needs to panic, needs to abandon its values.

You're seeing there's talk of a vigil tonight. There's a lot of talk on social media over nights about how Muslim doctors were working through the night in Manchester - and they're proud Mancunians - how Muslim taxi drivers we're giving people lifts for free.

And there was even a bit of pushback on social media at the idea that foreigners - and people were talking about conservative Fox News, for example, as being cited in the U.K. as they're starting to say that this is some sort of sickness in Britain. You know, they don't understand us. So that's kind of an interesting angle that you're seeing.

GREENE: Are there lessons as we've seen in like a city like Paris respond to a big attack over time and in terms of a change in thinking, a change in culture? I mean, it just strikes me because you say that we're seeing sort of a city come together and overcome differences and respond in this way.

RENNIE: Look, I think the big difference between Europe - big European cities and America is that in America, you can still have a debate to some extent that you need to choose to let the world in. You know, there aren't actually that many Muslims in lots of American cities. Lots of European cities - I mean, Manchester is 9 percent Muslim. So that debate is kind of over, and it's been over for a very long time.

So there's more of a set question of, how do you make this work? Well, I think this does play into some of the tensions that you'll see, even when President Trump talks to European leaders at a couple of summits later this week, that he represents a kind of logic of you can ban people. You can keep them out. This is fundamentally about law enforcement and kind of punishment and expulsion of bad elements.

That logic exists in European politics. There are people on the rise in European politics who make that case. But it is only one element, and it's quite a kind of painful debate for Europeans. They recognize that logic. And it's not one that, say, even Theresa May would share.

GREENE: I guess one thing that's really important we should remind our listeners - I mean, you're bringing up some of the themes that have come up in previous attacks. We don't know the identity of this attacker at all yet...

RENNIE: That's right.

GREENE: ...So which is important to take note of. You know, Donald Trump has been very outspoken after some of the other European terror attacks. You recently spent some time in the White House interviewing him, spending time with his advisers. What do you expect from him in a moment like this?

RENNIE: Well, I mean, you've seen his statement already today, you know, building on his speech in Riyadh when he was still talking about this as the civilized world needs to come together and expel these people - drive them out. There are real world consequences to that rhetoric.

I mean, there are advisors in the White House who look at Europe's refugees from Syria, and they say, hang on, these people as Europeans would get visa-free access to America in a couple of years time. That's terrifying. So I think there are real policy clashes coming.

GREENE: OK, speaking with David Rennie who is The Economist magazine's Washington bureau chief. He's in our studio. David, thanks as always for coming in.

RENNIE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.