ISIS is very clear in its propaganda that this was an attack on a group of “Crusaders.” In fact, it was an attack on innocence, pleasure and ordinary happiness. It aimed to transform a group of gathered young people into scattered, anxious and dismembered individuals. It was intended as an epiphany of death and fear.
It is important to also understand that this was an attack on young people way beyond Manchester itself – it ripples through the cities of the North. Many of those attending the concert were pupils or students from surrounding Northern cities, Liverpool, Harrogate, Bolton, Leeds, Newcastle and Durham, and from as far away as the Hebrides. This was a particularly pernicious act among a generation of young people for whom mental health problems appear to be on the rise and where the search for places of rest, solidarity and communal pleasure are yearned for and seem oddly hard to find. To strike at the heart of these youthful desires is cruel, indeed evil – for it strikes at the heart of our desire for the good in its ordinary, mundane forms.
Given that in the aftermath of such a horrific event the focus of care and support is rightly with those who have been injured, bereaved and distressed, it can be politically unpopular to rush too quickly to address the fears and concerns of the community with whom the bomber will – fairly or unfairly – be identified. Nonetheless, I know from my work in the North East that the backlash and reprisals are often experienced disproportionately by younger, headscarf wearing Muslim women, and tend to be perpetrated by older men.
When the bombing took place in Manchester in 1996, the Leader and Deputy Leader of the City Council acted swiftly to make clear that they would not tolerate reprisals – something the Manchester Irish community were understandably fearful about. Today, that fear will be felt by another community and a generation later leaders and members of the public in Manchester need to find creative and kind ways to echo the public and private solidarity that the city’s leaders showed.
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