On Monday night at about half past ten, hordes of teenagers and young children started to pour out of Manchester Arena following an evening enjoying an Ariana Grande concert. Some carried the pink balloons that had played a part in the show. Happy chatter and laughter filled the air. There was no warning of what was to follow as Salman Abedi walked in to the foyer filled with patiently waiting parents, and those starting to leave the venue, and detonated a horrific suicide bomb, filled with nuts and bolts – created to cause the most damage possible. The moment of the explosion was caught on a dashcam of a waiting car. The sound deep and unforgettable. A moment of violence that would change the lives of those standing around Abedi at that moment, and those who saw the carnage afterwards.
The UK has become used to hearing about terrorist attacks at home and abroad. We all know that the police have already managed to stop several attacks due to surveillance and intelligence methods, honed over years of dealing with IRA terrorism in the past. We knew that there was the chance of more attacks. But for an extremist to target an audience of predominantly young people, some very young indeed, has been the cause of deep anger and shock across the nation.
Abedi, whose family originate from Libya, was born in the UK. He has had the opportunity to free healthcare from our NHS, he has had free education and schooling, he has had the freedom we cherish in the UK. We took his family in when they needed to escape Libya and Gaddafi. He repaid that kindness by striking at the heart of what our freedom stands for – the chance to enjoy music and dancing, to gather with friends and family, to celebrate a female singer who stands for female empowerment and independence. That he chose to target a predominently young, female audience was surely no accident. Islamic State, as they choose to call themselves, are against the emancipation of women, against equality. I wonder what went through his mind in those seconds before he detonated his bomb. Did he see the faces of those around him? Did he feel for one fleeting moment their humanity and innocence?
As the investigation commences in to Abedi’s connection with extremists, this horrendous attack and the thinking behind it, must be a catalyst to stop this disease within our society. We value our freedoms and we value our diversity as a nation. We welcome those from other cultures who wish to share those aims, who wish to work here and contribute to our communities. But those who wish to come in to our midst and sow seeds of discord and violence are not welcome. There must be and has to be a clampdown on those who profess extremist beliefs, who wish to bring Sharia law to our shores, those who engage with radicals and are determined to boost their cause. These people must be removed from our communities. It seems that each time an extremist causes carnage, the police admit that the culprit had already been on their radar. Those on the radar must now be dealt with, and there has to be a determination from law enforcement and government to do this.
This is not about race. This is not about religion or culture. This is about refusing to accept extremist, violent people – CRIMINAL and ANTI-SOCIAL people who are against everything we as a nation stand for and believe.
And as we come to terms with the grief and shock of losing 22 people, who did nothing more than go out for an evening of entertainment, we must hold our beliefs dear. We must stand strong and show these inhuman extremists what love and faith and unity really are. For it is at the very worst of times that we see the best in human nature. We must continue to be tolerant and accepting and free people, the very opposite of the hate, intolerance and cruelty the extremists promote.
And in living our free lives, they can have no hold over us. It is a fight that they can never, and will never, win.