Westminster. Manchester. London Bridge. Three terrorist attacks in three months. How have we ended up here?
How have we ended up in a situation in which the bodies from the Manchester bombing had not yet been laid to rest before we were reading about the latest atrocity on London Bridge?
For those of us fortunate enough not to have been caught up in any of these events, the horror, anger and sadness are felt keenly enough, but beyond hugging our loved ones that little bit closer, posting messages on social media expressing solidarity, condolence, hope, anger or demands for tougher action against terrorism, maybe ranting and raving a bit to our friends and loved ones – eventually we shrug our collective shoulders, concede there’s very little that we personally can do about the situation, and get on with our everyday lives.
Not so the victims and their families. Scrolling through Twitter a few days ago, I found myself moved to tears at the below image of the body of Eilidh MacLeod, 14 years old, who died in the Manchester attack, being piped home across the beach in her home town of Barra. For Eilidh’s family and friends, the pain and despair is unimaginable, a return to everyday life impossible.
When the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, comes out with platitudes such as “terrorism is part and parcel of living in a big city” it makes my blood boil. Not only because those who choose to live in a big city should not be expected to accept terrorism as a way of life. But also because that statement completely ignores the fact that the majority of the victims of the recent terror attacks have been visitors to the cities in which they were killed.
They did not choose to live in a big city. Barra, where Eilidh grew up, has a population of about 1,100. Kurt Cochran, killed on Westminster Bridge, and his wife Melissa, who was seriously injured in the attack, were from West Bountiful, Utah, a city with a population of about 5,500. It was their 25th wedding anniversary and their first ever trip abroad.
Other victims of the Westminster and London Bridge attacks hailed from Canada, Australia, Spain, France, Romania, Germany, Greece, South Korea, China, and Italy. While some of those were living and working in London and will have considered it their home, many of them were on holiday.
Many of the Manchester attack victims had travelled to the concert from smaller towns and cities throughout the UK – the excitement of visiting the big city no doubt adding to the excitement of the concert they had travelled to attend.
But it’s not just sorrow and despair that I’m feeling at the pointless loss of life, or anger at the platitudes from our leaders. It’s awe and wonder at the bravery of some of those caught up in the recent London Bridge attack, who chose not to run away but to confront the attackers with whatever they had to hand – a chair, a skateboard and, in the case of football fan Roy Larner, a pair of fists and a loud voice yelling “Fuck you, I’m Millwall”. The fact that Mr Larner, despite numerous stab wounds, survived the attack, is all the more cheering. Sadly Ignacio Echeverria, the skateboard hero, was not so fortunate. His parents will no doubt take comfort from the fact that their son died a hero – though just how much comfort that will bring them, and how much they may wish that he had instead chosen to run for his life, is hard to imagine.
To those of us who don’t harbor murderous tendencies towards tourists, children and ordinary citizens, the acts of these terrorists are inexplicable. Some will argue that British foreign policy is to blame, that the terrorists are acting out of anger at British interference in the middle east. Others will point out that ISIS is also carrying out atrocities in countries such as the Philippines, which has had no involvement whatsoever in the middle east – it is not foreign policy that is to blame, but a deeper ideological belief that is driving these young men to death and destruction in the name of a greater cause and the expectation of eternal bliss in the afterlife. And some will argue that these are simply sad, desperate losers, massively overcompensating for their inability to get a girl. Or, conversely, that these attacks are the result of “toxic masculinity” – defined recently by Janey Stephenson, a feminist writer, as that which “entitles a man to take a weapon and take other people’s lives in the name of his values”
Personally I think there are elements of truth in all of the above arguments. The sad fact is that we have a number of young men living in this country who feel so disconnected from society, so devoid of purpose, that they will latch on to the fanatical teachings of hate preachers who teach them that their fellow countrymen are ‘infidels’ and that their true calling is to martyr themselves in the name of Islam, that their sacrifice will be repaid with everlasting bliss and the devotion of 72 virgins in heaven. These young men see themselves as being engaged in a holy war – and the sooner we all acknowledge that fact, and start talking seriously about ways not only to root out the hate preachers but also to try to engage these troubled young men, to show them a more meaningful, positive purpose in life, the sooner we can hope to see an end to this type of violence.
Sadly, in the meantime, the attacks will no doubt continue – we will continue to read heartbreaking stories of lives cut desperately short, and heartening stories of the heroes among us who choose to fight back. And of course the bravery and compassion of our emergency services, who are always the first on scene on such occasions and for whom coming to terms with what they see and experience, must be unimaginably difficult. The least that can be expected of those of us fortunate enough not to be caught up in any attack, is to ensure that these heroes and victims are never forgotten, that we keep demanding to know what is being done to prevent future atrocities, and that we never accept terrorism as simply “part and parcel of living in a big city”.