All our Daughters? Desperately Seeking Meaning in Manchester

Like many of us I woke this morning to the news that another terror attack has happened in Manchester.  I guess this one was a little closer to home, in that our daughter goes to Manchester a lot, and theoretically could have been involved.  Imagining a loved one caught up in such an event brings it close to your heart in a way that no statistics can.  I got the news via Facebook messenger from our daughter (she’s in Leicester right now, so I wouldn’t have worried) and then went to other news sites for details.  I now know as much as anyone about what happened.  Presumably details will emerge of the who and the how; presumably as usual the why will remain a mystery.

So I go on Facebook briefly – and immediately I am assaulted by a scattering of comments about Muslims, not from friends (who would be immediately unfriended) but by members of groups I belong to.  I won’t repeat what the comments said, since they were fairly predictable; but it goes to the heart of my problems about Facebook.  I go there every day because I want to communicate with friends, to share life events, to find out what my children are up to, and to catch up with the latest news in, for example, the Labour Party (no campaigning today as a mark of respect.)  Yet every day I am assaulted – and that is not too strong a word – by hatred, vitriol, insults and prejudice.  When I post even the mildest of comments I am unsure whether it might, out of nowhere, receive an aggressive response from someone who has read into it a meaning which I never intended.

I’ve tried various responses to this: preventive, ie trying to make my meaning as clear as possible; asking questions, eg when someone posts an aggressive comment, asking why they think as they do, and most effective of all, hiding, unfollowing and in extreme cases, blocking.  I am careful to mind my mental health when on Facebook, and when posts have a detrimental effect on me, I hide them or unfollow the conversation.

All this seems as nothing in the face of an event like last night’s: and yet it is somehow relevant.  How do we deal with atrocities like this?  I am aware that, as mere bystanders, we don’t have to deal with very much, and yet there are our own feelings and responses, and those of others with whom we interact.  So how do we deal with the inevitable upsurge in hatred and prejudice?  Here are some ideas:

Hiding and unfollowing: don’t read the tabloids or follow the trolls.  The tabloids have vested interests and are not open to argument, and the trolls just want the attention.

Asking questions: when in contact with far-right groups, ask mild, polite questions.  Why do you think that?  What makes you say that?  Which particular aspects of sharia law do you disagree with?  Their beliefs are usually unfocussed and emotional – specific questions can cut into that.

Stand alongside the persecuted: when witnessing a verbal attack on someone, stand alongside them.  Ask if they are OK, or strike up a conversation.  (Naturally a physical attack needs to trigger a call to the police.)

Difficult though it is, avoid rage and vitriol: these achieve nothing beyond raising your own blood pressure.  As the Buddha says, trying to hurt someone with anger is like throwing a spear made of fire.  You burn your own hand first.  If situations and people enrage you, come back when you’re calmer and ask questions.  Above all, don’t get into arguments; debate peacefully.

The scenario in Manchester reminded me of Arthur Miller’s play, ‘All My Sons.’  A corrupt aircraft manufacturer allows faulty parts to be fitted into planes, resulting in the death of young pilots, one of whom turns out to be his son.  The title of the play comes from his final recognition that there is no difference between his son and the others: that they were ‘all his sons.’

And there’s the rub.  My daughter, thank god, was not in Manchester last night.  But other daughters were.  All our daughters were.

Kirk out

This is a particularly futile question, but I can’t help asking it.  I’m sure right now millions of others are asking the same question.  Why?  What on earth made you think it was a good idea to plough a lorry through a pedestrianised area and kill dozens of people?  How does that help whatever cause you think you have?  What conceivable god could be in your heart telling you to do that?  What, if anything, is in your heart besides anger?

I don’t think I shall ever understand the things people do in the name of god.  I once heard a story of a nun who shouted ‘God!  Is!  Love!’ at a child, beating him with a book on every syllable.

I don’t think I shall ever understand why people think they can enter paradise by killing others.

I don’t think I shall ever understand the excitement that runs through you as you plan your killing.  Why don’t you see the blood, why don’t you feel the pain?  Why don’t you hear the children?

You must be excited, I guess.  You must be fuelled by adrenaline as you jump into that lorry in the hills, armed with your fierce intention, holding the steering-wheel like an AK47, driving the truck like a bomb.  Your heart is a missile.

I don’t think I will ever understand.

Your purpose is steely as you head for the town.  Do you think about the people who will die?  Do you see them?  Or are they just devils to you: devils in cafes and shops; devils with their devil families, devils on terraces drinking wine and enjoying the satanic evening sun?  That must be it, I guess.  You couldn’t do it otherwise.

We must all be devils to you.  I am a little demon eating my muesli and watching the news: my children are succubi and my husband has cloven hooves.  My friends are Lucifer and Mammon.  We drink satanic wine and chat on the terrace.

Because you have divided us.  You have divided us into good and evil; angels and demons.  You yourself are on the side of the angels, and to prove it you must blow up a few devils from time to time.  Else the Archangel Gabriel will get cross with you and throw you out of heaven.  You must prove your loyalty; here, now.

You must prove your honour.

Here is your honour.  On the bloody bodies.  Here is your honour, written on the dead bodies of the children.  here is your honour on the splattered streets and torn cafes, on the fear and chaos and mayhem.

Don’t speak to me of honour.  Because I will never understand.

RIP the victims of Nice.