Like many of you, I suppose, I woke yesterday morning to the appalling news coming out of Manchester. American pop singer Ariana Grande, who’s very popular with teenagers and young people here, had been performing at the Manchester Arena. The concert ended shortly before half past ten at night and as fans started streaming out into the night, a suicide bomber with an improvised explosive device walked into the foyer and detonated the bomb, blowing himself up and killing at least twenty other people in the process, including several children. Given that tweets by pro-Da’esh / ISIS groups celebrating the attack started circulating very soon afterwards, it’s safe to assume that the attacker may well have been acting in the name of the so-called Islamic State.
Of course, this is not the first time that Manchester has been subjected to terrorist attacks. In 1978, the IRA – the Irish Republican Army, an illegal organization that wants Northern Ireland to be politically independent of the UK and united with the Republic of Ireland, and that has in the past fought for this aim using violent methods – detonated a bomb in the city, although no-one was injured. Then again in 1992 they detonated two bombs, injuring 65 people. Finally, in 1996, a huge bomb was detonated near a large shopping centre, injuring over 200 people. So such actions are nothing new.
However, the IRA sent telephone warnings about 90 minutes before the bomb went off, which allowed at least 75,000 people to be evacuated from the area. Their main target was the city’s infrastructure and economy and the bomb caused almost a billion pound’s worth of damage. This latest attack very deliberately targeted civilians, and not just any old civilians, but innocent children! It was an attack less on our infrastructure than on our minds, and our society. It’s an attack designed to spread fear, and to create divisions in society. The fact that it comes in the middle of a very tense general election campaign is also surely significant. As we saw in France, terrorists use violence to try to influence voting patterns and, historically speaking, at least, it’s been the hard right – the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam groups – who benefit from such attacks.
Given that we all so often hear of terrible violence being committed in so many different places around the world, for so many different reasons, it’s easy to become numb and turn off and lose all feeling. We can all too easily become immune to shock and horror. And as the violence continues, it no longer feels sufficient to call things like what happened in Manchester on Monday night (or in Sinjar in 2014 or in Karrada last year or in Beslan in 2004) an attack. An attack could also be used to describe what happens if someone is kicked and punched outside a pub, for instance. It doesn’t necessarily imply death on a large scale! Instead, we now talk more and more about atrocities and outrages. Politicians and social commentators discuss this fresh outrage, what can be done to prevent further atrocities from being committed, and push people who had nothing to do with whatever mass murder is most recent to condemn the latest atrocity.
- Have there been any atrocities committed in your country over recent years?
- Had you heard anything about the IRA or about the previous Manchester bombings before?
- Can you think of any other times you woke to shocking news?
- Have you ever been evacuated from a building or an area? When? What happened?
- Do you think terrorist attacks are successful in spreading fear and creating division?