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Hard lessons from the Manchester attack

A personal reflection in the wake of the Manchester terrorist attack.

People attend a vigil in Albert Square, Manchester, after a 23-year-old man was arrested in connection with the Manchester concert bomb attack. PAimages/Martin Rickett. All rights reserved.

It was tough waking up to the terrible news from Manchester. So many dead and injured. The concert at the Manchester Arena seemingly chosen to target children and young teenagers.

As our family went about our morning routine it was very hard to hear the details of this cowardly and vile attack, which would be worthy of universal condemnation wherever it had taken place. But it didn't take place just anywhere, it happened in the city where I grew up and in an arena I have been to many times.

Going there to watch basketball and ice hockey was a memorable part of growing up in the city. It meant going on the trams, it meant being in the diverse crowds of the city. Later, it meant being trusted to go to concerts there on my own.

It also meant that the city was safe for me to do so and the arena is a symbol of Manchester’s urban regeneration in the 1990s. I have so many good memories connected to that place, which made it all the harder to hear about those people who will now have very different memories of it. Or none at all.

It was difficult to listen to the interviews with distraught parents, to the terror that the BBC irresponsibly insisted on playing again and again. But it was also hard to listen to the immediate rush to judgement of many commentators, dog whistling about ‘certain communities’ while further stigmatising and alienating Muslims in the UK.

Whether this is politically motivated violence or the work of a psychologically disturbed individual (like the recent Westminster attack) we should not jump to conclusions nor to ill-considered ‘solutions’ that do more harm than good. There have already been calls for increased police funding but it would be better to reinforce the social and public services that are crucial to the integration (and flourishing) of all communities.

Other experts quickly called for increased security measures in large venues and public spaces. But fortifying the city is no answer – it’s incompatible with the kind of free, fulfilling and creative life that Manchester is famous for. Like any city, Manchester can never be 100% safe but that doesn't mean we should shut down what makes it special.

Manchester is, by some measures, the most diverse city in the Europe -and it feels like that. Growing up there, my classmates were called Iqbal and Ohandjanian as well as Wildsmith and I had friends called Arjang and Abdi as well as Gareth. From the arena to the famous ‘Curry Mile’ we explored the city and grew up together.

That kind of community only gets built the hard way - but thankfully it’s also hard to break and will survive this atrocity. Rather than prejudicial judgements and quick security fixes this is the hard lesson we should learn from the Manchester attack. 

This article originally appeared in Czech in Hospodářské Noviny.

About the author

Benjamin Tallis is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of International Relations, Prague and Editor-in-Chief of the academic journal New Perspectives. He works on European and EU politics in general but particularly on the issues of security, identity, migration and borders.

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