Image: Euronews / Flickr
By now the scenes are all too familiar: the dead, the wounded, the wreckage. A senseless act of violence meant to instill terror and hurt people for reasons that the victims had nothing to do with. Candlelit vigils and social media calls to “unite” and “stay strong.” Politicians, media pundits and everyone else wondering if any place anywhere will ever truly be safe, and debating how far we should go in our seemingly futile quest for security.
But this attack is also different to the others. It’s different because of the choice of target, and the demographics of the victims (read: teen and tween girls). It’s different because it’s an attack on girls and women in general. It’s different because instead of instilling fear, it’s meant to instill hate.
Most of us can agree that young people are usually the most accepting people in our society – assertions that are backed up by a host of studies. By attacking them in such a horrific manner as in Manchester, you have to wonder whether the goal was to forever harden their hearts against Muslims, continuing the cycle of hate and mistrust that the likes of ISIS thrive off, because it means they can perpetuate the “us against them” narrative that they use to lure angry young men (and make no mistake, it’s almost always angry young men) to fight for their misguided “cause.”
What’s happened in Manchester is something more than an act of terrorism; this is an act meant to foment hate in a new generation, and to further harden the hearts of the rest of society. When young girls are attacked and killed in an atmosphere that should otherwise be celebratory and jovial - a pop concert - the temptation to give in to hatred is hard to resist.
There are other motivations at work here, too. Was the concert targeted because the world has become somewhat desensitised to attacks involving adults, and the only way terror groups think their message becomes additionally chilling is to target young people? Is it anger that young people, particularly young women, are out enjoying themselves without restraint? Is it because the main performer at the concert was an American artist and, by default, it creates an opportunity to involve America in discussions of the aftermath because America may be increasingly difficult to target? These are all possibilities.
The Manchester attack is also an act of extreme misogyny. An Ariana Grande concert represents just about everything ISIS hates most: a strong, empowered woman urging her mostly female fans to celebrate who they are, to be confident in themselves, and to go out and do anything they want to do. This, of course, is the opposite of what many terror groups preach. In attacking this powerful celebration of womanhood and youthful revelry, it sends the message that women and young people are not safe anywhere.
Already, the attack seems to be achieving what we can assume to be its evil objectives. Right-wing media outlets have blamed a “tolerant” culture, slamming “liberals” for allowing nonwhite, non-Christian people (read: people from the Middle East or who happen to be Muslim) from overseas to immigrate (ignoring that fact that the alleged attacker was born and raised in Britain).
Tempting as it is, we cannot give into the hate, the scapegoating, and the finger-pointing. It may be cliché, but coming together and showing compassion for and loving one another is the best way to respond.
Music and laughter will return to Manchester – as it did in London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Orlando, Tel Aviv, St Petersburg, Sydney, New York, Madrid, Mumbai and so many other places tragically connected by terrorism. But if we want to make sure terror never wins, then we need to be strong in our support for each other, regardless of who we are and where we're from.
People loving one another and peacefully co-existing no matter what? That’s what truly terrifies terrorists.