Jonathan Schofield considers an awful Monday night in Manchester and previous attacks
Charlotte Campbell was speaking on the radio as I made breakfast, my mundane morning duty.
Ms Campbell was having a different morning, one that made tears flow. Her daughter, Olivia, still hadn’t come home from a gig in Manchester Arena, so, in a breaking voice, she said: “Her phone is dead. Her father is out looking for her. There are so many people out there looking for her I don’t even know. If anyone sees her contact me. Give her your phone and let her ring me. I just want her home."
The murders in Manchester on Monday evening come in the context of numerous warnings from security officials. They have repeated over many months that despite so many successes in stopping terrorist atrocities, some death-loving maniac may slip the net.
That awareness in the back of your mind doesn’t lessen the shock when something like this happens down the road. It doesn’t stop you balling your fists in rage with the twisted minds and ideologies that lead to such crimes.
There have been several Take That concerts at Manchester Arena over the last few days, but it was an Ariana Grande concert, an artist beloved of children and teenagers, that was the target. The idea clearly was to kill youth and maximise publicity and impact. This doesn’t make the murders worse, because it would have been bad in any circumstance, but it illustrates the depraved nature of the man or people involved.
Manchester has suffered bomb attacks before of course. In December 1992 two IRA devices injured more than 60 people. The huge IRA bomb of 1996 injured 212 people and caused around £700m of damage (around £1.4bn at today’s prices) across 100,000sqm of commercial space. These were still evil acts but they came with warnings from the terrorists which helped reduce casualties.
The most deadly attacks on the city came in World War II, particularly on the nights of 22 and 23 December. In the so-called Christmas Blitz more than 440 German planes dropped hundreds of tons of high-explosive and incendiary bombs on the city. Almost 700 people died.
The planes came without warning from those perpetrating the attack but were accompanied by air raid sirens giving some notice to those who were about to suffer.
Whether in Paris, Berlin or Manchester, their actions are an empty victory. Freedom of thought and action is now too-embedded in the West to be dislodged.
There are no such niceties in modern Islamist terrorism. There is no point. The perpetrators want to die anyway and they want to take as many innocents with them as possible. They want to spread chaos and fear through a society. They temporarily succeed for a few moments or hours in the immediate vicinity of their idiotic deaths. But that is all they do.
Whether in Paris, Berlin or Manchester, their actions are an empty victory. Freedom of thought and action is now too-embedded in the West to be dislodged. We might have to suffer a few more queues, but the way of life will not change. The futility of this type of terrorism makes the deaths even more pointless.
Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester Mayor, has said, “These were children, young people and their families that those responsible chose to terrorise and kill. This was an evil act.
“We are grieving today but we are strong. Today it will be business as usual as far as possible in our great city. I want to thank the hundreds of police, fire and ambulance staff who worked through the night in the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
“We have had messages of support from cities across the country and around the world and we thank them.
“But lastly I want to thank the people of Manchester. Even in the minutes after the attack, they opened their doors to strangers and drove them away from danger.
“They gave the best possible immediate response to those who seek to divide us. And it will be that spirit of Manchester that will prevail and hold us together.”
Manchester’s spirit will prevail, the West’s spirit will endure. These tragic acts make us weep with Olivia Campbell’s mum. But instead of keeping our fists balled in anger we must in Manchester and the West open our hands to offer friendship and support to all people who need it in our open and culturally mixed society - one operating under the rule of law.