Purposefully targeting children in the name of your murderous ideals is despicable under absolutely all circumstances, whether you are ISIS, the IRA, Bashar Al-Assad or Adam Lanza. These is no justification, ever. No excuse. No qualifier. No moral relativism.

With regard to the attack at Manchester Arena last night, I can only say what I’m sure all my friends back in the UK are saying: This was a pop concert, for fuck’s sake. These people are no-one’s enemies. Eight-year old children can barely boil an egg, let alone form worldviews or ideologies. The modern British teen is too busy enjoying those brief years of raging hormonal freedom, too innocent in the ways of the adult warring world, to be considered any form of collateral damage.

Other than the matter of personal taste, pop music has no inherent sin. It’s entertainment, and often it’s ephemeral, but it’s also unifying. Attending a concert at any age, but especially when you are really young, is an incredibly emotional experience, one that brings you together with a mass of people through your common love of the music on stage. That commonality allows strangers to become friends, couples to meet, and in an arena environment it should introduce children to an experience they will hopefully adapt and adopt to more intimate environments as they grow. At least 22 people who went to sing along to this year’s model American pop singer will never now have a chance to further that experience , and I’m grieving this morning, like really truly grieving, for people I don’t even know, as I’m sure so many others are. The victims and their families are in my thoughts.

It also just seems so fucked up that someone would do this and hand their enemies – those politicians constantly escalating the rhetoric of intolerance and with the military might to act on it – such a gift, at such an ideal moment for them. Thereligiously intolerant, race-baiting, politically and militarily neophyte POTUS could not have asked for better timing for an attack of this magnitude and cowardice than during a Middle East visit in which he has made Islamic – or did he mean Islamist? – terrorism his central focus. The xenophobes who pushed British voters towards Brexit will no doubt sleep more securely knowing that murder this depraved will help guarantee a sweeping victory for the reactionary right wing at the upcoming General Election.

And what about the rest of us? How do we distinguish the warped mentality of someone who would blow themselves up in the midst of a crowded foyer full of families from the person who is our next door neighbor, from the congregation at the mosque down the road, from the man in the corner shop who sells us our daily paper or who drives us home from an arena concert in a taxi? We do it the only way we all can: through example, through leadership, through everyday behaviors with those neighbors, through unity. We refuse to let the bastards turn us into bastards.

I visit Manchester every time I am back in the UK. In November 2015, attending the annual Louder Than Words music-lit event, I went on a morning run and not far from the city center, on Princess Avenue, came across this barbershop. I stopped to take and then share out a picture. The words mattered then, and they matter that much more right now. Manchester is one of the most amazing cities on earth in so many different ways; it doesn’t just have history, it wrote history. Perhaps, out of this atrocity, it will be able to write some more history, the same way that the despicable “Real IRA” Omagh bombing of 1998 that killed children, teens, foreign tourists and people of all faiths, served to escalate the peace process. We can live in hope. We have to. The alternative is deadly.

Peace and Love Barbers Shop, 115 Princess Avenue, Manchester.


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July 2021