Opinion piece featured in The Sunday Times, 28 May 2017

We can’t climb into the hateful minds of terrorists. How can we even start to understand how they rationalise indiscriminate slaughter of young people attending a pop concert? But we can identify with the outpouring of solidarity and compassion shown by affected communities in the wake of these unceasing atrocities, which could strike anywhere next.

The reaction of the people of Manchester to Monday’s carnage speaks volumes about their character and strength, and shows the true face of their community. It also reveals that for every act of evil, there are thousands of examples of kindness, bravery and charity. The world is a dangerous place, increasingly vulnerable to savage acts of terror, but we shouldn’t be conned into thinking we’ve entered a new dark age.

Manchester, a city known among other things for unrelenting rain — which suited its many cotton mills during the industrial revolution — has been a beacon of light to the world these past six days.

The city is still reeling from the murder of 22 people, including children, when leaving an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena. But the way Mancunians have responded, drawing on their city’s rich cultural and musical heritage, has been inspiring.

We have seen crowds break into spontaneous song, with an apt rendition of the Oasis song Don’t Look Back in Anger . Video of the reaction, which followed a minute’s silence for the victims, quickly went viral on social media. And at a vigil for the victims on Tuesday, a man could be heard chanting “There is a light that never goes out”, a reference to the song by The Smiths of the same name.

A stirring poem called This Is The Place read by local poet Tony Walsh at a multi-faith vigil in the city also needs to be seen.

Part of it read: “There’s hard times again in these streets of our city, but we won’t take defeat and we don’t want your pity, because this is the place where we stand strong together with a smile on our face, Mancunians forever.”

We have also learnt about the homeless man Stephen Jones, who had been sleeping outside the concert venue and rushed to help the injured and dying in the immediate aftermath of the bomb blast. He even pulled nails out of a little girl’s face.

On Monday night, taxi drivers offered to drive people home for free and provided transport for those seeking loved ones.

Local businesses and residents provided shelter and meals to survivors and family members who had rushed to the scene. The next day, many people turned up at blood donation centres wanting to help. The local newspaper set up a fundraising appeal for the impacted families that topped one million pounds within 24 hours.

These acts do more than underscore the mood of a resilient community, a community which has experienced terrorism before when the IRA detonated a bomb at its main shopping centre in 1996. Yes, bombs and other forms of terrorism kill, maim and inflict sorrow on the families and friends of victims. But these acts show community bonds get tighter, not weaker. Mancunians are stronger today than a week ago.

On Monday night, the worst of humanity was pitted against the best of humanity and the best won.


Michael Beach, Editor, Sunday Times and Board Member of Crime Stoppers WA.