Before I begin my weekly shout into the blackhole of the internet, I wish to express my profound sadness and deep condolences to all those effected by the attack on Manchester that occurred on Monday. I would also like to say how much respect and admiration I have for the emergency services at all levels and all the first responders who attended and are still attending to the victims of the attack. Finally, to the men and women of all faiths and backgrounds in Manchester who either directly, through opening their doors to the victims, or indirectly through signs of solidarity and support showed the capability human compassion, you are a credit to all of us.
Every morning I listen to German radio, in a somewhat fruitless attempt to improve my German through osmosis. It was during my daily language flagellation that I first heard the news of the attack in Manchester. My first thought was ‘Not again’, something that many people I am sure felt when they also received the news. Terrorism in European cities, for numerous and complex reasons, has become the norm. It is a sentiment expressed by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan when he described terrorism as ‘part and parcel of living in a big city’, something he was roundly ridiculed for in various quarters. It is not welcome, it is not acceptable, but our lives are routinely interrupted by it.
It has become so common now that we can even predict the way the days following terrorist attacks will play out. There is a rightful outpouring of grief through all forms of media, social networks are inundated with messages of sadness, support and condolence. To show compassion in times of hardship is not weakness, it is strength. Certainly since the 2015 Paris attacks, it has become common to change profile photos to mirror the flags of the nations impacted, a visual sign of solidarity. It is sometimes derided, fairly or unfairly, but it has become a social norm.
Then we have the eye witness testimonies. I remember when the news first broke of the July 7 bombing, it was the first time I saw grainy footage taken directly after the attack, of people walking through an underground tunnel, the shake of the camera underlining the unimaginable fear that the victim holding their phone was feeling. With every step forward in technology, these images and films have become more and more harrowing as if the human development of technology was walking in step with human developments in depravity.
Then comes the images of the victims, the announcements of the bereaved, the smiling faces that are no longer with us flashed across screens and newspapers. The human face of tragedy is harrowing, I have no idea, nor do I wish to ever experience what the families of the victims of terrorism have to go through. It breaks my fucking heart.
Politicians make announcements, give speeches, try and do what we pay them to do; lead. They use familiar imagery, conjure a national perspective and search to translate the untranslatable. The media grades their responses, some are better, some are worse. The perpetrators are ‘callous’ and they are ‘depraved’, they are even ‘losers’. Politicians strive to unite communities, promise these acts will not divide us and they extend an official hand of support to the victims. Depending on your opinion, they either succeed or fail.
Communities of all backgrounds seek each other out, they attend vigils or impromptu gatherings, carry signs of support and lay flowers. We make speeches of defiance, of love in the face of fear and we attempt to will away the evil in the world through collective, physical acts of grief and condolence. Some might deride these collective responses, but it is part of our process. It is human, it is required.
Some then look for someone to blame. It was the government, it was the security services, it was my neighbour’s religion. Rational thought is for the weak, now is a time for anger, now we must fight. We utter the unimaginable and pretend it is a valid response. We label the perpetrators with oversimplified explanations; they are evil, they are monsters, they are the other. We no longer require complex answers to complex questions, we have found them in the media we ingest and the bubbles we occupy. Here is the enemy, standing at the bus stop, walking their dog, doing their weekly shop. They are the ones who have caused this, their set of beliefs cannot exist within our own, they are too different, they eat different foods, they wear different clothes and they observe different customs, all the time forgetting they might be more like us than we imagine. They support the same football team, they enjoy the Great British Bake Off and they are as wounded as we are by the acts of extremists.
We need laws to protect against them, but which will simultaneously destroy our own freedoms. We demand they return to their own countries, forgetting that much of the time their own countries are ours. We are angry and we are flailing, because that is also the human response.
I am told that it is the fault of the liberals, I am told it is the fault of the right. I am told that my compassion is a failing and that my understanding is wrong. My liberalism is weakness, I need to get angry and lash out. This interpretation fundamentally misunderstands my position: I am angry, because I am human. No one who watched the rolling coverage on Monday or during any other terrorist attack is not angry, but I am also sure that actions based on anger and revenge will ultimately only ever result in more anger and revenge. I do not want to get even, I want to find resolution. I have no idea how that is done, but I am sure it will not come from blaming Muslims.
Yet we are under attack, that is hard to deny. We see the face of terror writ large in the newspapers, on television and throughout the internet, the atrocities committed daily in far flung places only a few have actually seen, by actors as barbaric as they are backward. They wish to return to an imagined past, to world further back than our collective minds can be cast. They have intentionally twisted their religion to gain power and use it as a club to subjugate people who, despite differences in custom, have more in common with us than some would like to believe.
We are under attack from these groups, but not from the whole. We are under attack too from aspects of our own humanity; from those who twist history to fit their political narrative, from the poorly educated who choose not to be informed and instead spread lies, from people who peddle disinformation and package it as truth, from the people who spread fear in exchange for notoriety and from leaders who target sections of society to distract from their own shortcomings.
Fear, anger, hatred and despair are all parts of what make us human, but they are only small parts of the whole. Our humanity consists of many moving parts, the bad, but also the good; bravery, courage, compassion, joy, love and interest are the counter weight and in my insignificant opinion, it is these aspects that will bring us through the worst that our enemies can do.