As a young child, I asked my parents about bombs a lot... Harrods, Brighton, Lockerbie. They never lied to me, they explained the IRA in language that was appropriate, never really explicitly taking sides. They patiently explained that people can be cruel when they fight for their beliefs; they explained that terrorists are often only terrorists in the eyes of their victims. It was much later I heard the words 'freedom fighter', but immediately understood the linguistic implication and, of course, the implicit bias in its use.
By no means were they apologists, by no means did they advocate the violence. They just tried to explain these acts of horror in a way that wouldn't scare a child. They wanted to protect me, without lying to me. It did not work. I remember shopping centres, train stations, thoughts of car bombs - wondering if today would be the day the IRA got me. Through my teens, regularly travelling through London, always wary on every platform, wondering if I'd be delayed, evacuated, or this time, worse.
11th September, 2001. On a flight to Mexico, my plane was diverted as it flew over the east coast of the USA. The plane turned around, was grounded in Maine, and stranded, watching unbelievable news reports on televisions we should have never been watching, in hotels we should have never been staying in. I was really aware for the first time how close to home this kind of violence can be. At Bangor airport, I called my mum to find out what was going on. I have never heard a mother's scream in real life, the desperate relief of finding her child safe at a time when all she felt was dread and fear. The sound of her sobbing as she thanked a god she doesn't even believe in for the safety of a baby, all grown up, but alone.
But today, I watched a news report about Manchester, and I felt all those things I heard in her voice on that phone call. As the presenter choked on her words, I too felt that awful horror when confronted with the thought of losing your babies. I cannot imagine the kind of pain. I cannot imagine the fear and the overwhelming dread. I cannot imagine the relief, or the devastation at hearing either kind of news in the aftermath.
There is one thing I do know, though. Since September 11th, it might seem like all the terrorists are Muslim. Even if they were, which they're not, the reverse will still never be true. A terrorist is nothing more than a terrorist. It doesn't matter what they believe they're fighting for; it doesn't matter what the root of their cause is, their commitment to that belief is beyond your comprehension. If you are willing to murder for your cause, you have either been brainwashed, you are a psychopath, or you are seriously mentally ill.
They aim to instil fear. They aim to disrupt lives, systems, protocols, regimes, modes of being. If you waste your time mindlessly blaming groups or even individuals, you allow them to win. You can point the finger wherever your bigotry or your conspiracy theory takes you - but it will not change the outcome. If we scapegoat, fearmonger and divert attention away from the scourge upon us, our response becomes diluted.
All terrorism is terrorism, whatever its root. We cannot give it the self importance it craves. Unite at that point where we are good people, where we help each other, where we stand against unjustifiable acts. Let us not just experience these moments of humanity in our darkest hours, but every day, valuing each other, supporting each other, and observing difference without judgment.
What I'm saying is this: if you suspect any kind of radicalisation in your circle of friends, report it. This is happening everywhere - not just in specific communities, but maybe right around the corner from you. Yes, you, in your comfortable little white world, wondering where that weirdo from school went after he changed his Facebook profile and circle of friends. Whether you think they've joined the IRA, Al Quaeda or the fucking KKK, report the shit out of it. We owe it to everyone we love to not stand by while another 10, 20, 50, or 2000 lives are destroyed. Terrorists do not have 'a look'. They exhibit changes in behaviours. Know the symptoms of cult radicalisation and brainwashing. Have emergency protocols with your loved ones in case you ever need them.
Do not be afraid. Do not let them win.