THERE can be no words of comfort for those whose lives have forever been rent by the searing flash of light and sound that tore through the Arena in Manchester: Those who lost their loved ones, those who are battling pain, those who will have trauma imprinted on their minds forever. To succumb to rage, however, is to give the terrorist who carried out the suicide bombing, and the cause he represents, a victory.
Leading political parties in the United Kingdom have been responsible in the wake of the bombing, loath so far to exploit the tragedy for the looming elections, but signs of a society under strain are everywhere.The singer Steven Morissey incoherently raged against politicians, attacking London mayor Sadiq Khan for purportedly failing to condemn the Islamic State, and Prime Minister Theresa May for living her life “in a bullet-proof bubble”. There has been at least one hate crime against a Muslim student at Manchester University. Twitter has been flooded with toxic comment.
Perhaps this should not surprise us. Ever since the 2015 attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo’s office, Europe has seen 13 major terrorist attacks, which have claimed more than 300 lives. These numbers aren’t exceptional — the Madrid train bombings in 2004 alone claimed 192 lives, while the London bombings the next year claimed 55. The recent waves of attacks, though, have invoked a curious sense of dread.
The Islamic State, with its large cohort of Europe-born Muslims, has succeeded in bringing its war home in ways past violent movements did not. Though anti-Irish or anti-Catalan racism have long and dishonourable histories, complete with legal backing, the simmering resentment against Muslims has demonstrated how fragile the liberal values Europe is built on can be.
It’s clear, though, that simply seeking to ignore or silence anti-Muslim hatred will not succeed in addressing the problem. Values like tolerance or mutual respect have, sadly, been degraded into formulaic clichés, denuded of real-world meaning. Instead, societies need to find a vocabulary with which to discuss their fears and anxieties with candour and honesty. There are few opportunities for such conversations to take place, particularly in societies like the United Kingdom — or, for that matter, India — where ethnic and religious communities are often sundered from each other, with few social ties that would allow for meaningful interaction.
The words of comfort societies torn by violence so desperately need cannot be imposed top-down. The path to peace, in Europe and in India, begins from the home next door.