Children die. Every day. All over the world. Violence, disasters, disease. Children are targeted, kidnaped, forced into ‘marriage’, given guns and forced to be soldiers. Children are neglected, abused, broken and denied access to what they need in a thousand ways every hour of every day.
When it happens en mass, in other parts of the world, sometimes we in the West notice. When it happens in our cities and our towns, it’s the worst atrocity possible. It is ‘sickening cowardice’, but why only when it happens to ‘our’ children?
I grieve for those whose lives changed forever in Manchester last night, for those who lost those they love, for those whose bodies will never be the same, and for the masses of people who will suffer psychological trauma over this event for years – perhaps the rest of their lives.
I grieve for the family of the suicide bomber, those who knew him and cared about him, those who never suspected he could do such a thing and those who feared he would, but didn’t know how to stop him.
When I first heard the news this morning, it was shocking, but even before I could process the human cost, the great grief and pain of such an event, I was fearing the political aftermath. The protests of innocence, the evil language of “our values” verse “their ideology.” I shrunk from the prospect of the triumphalism I knew would be spouted by the PM, and the thousands of people who would cling to her assurances of strength and stability, her violent language about evil and retribution.
Violence is not the answer. Hating criminals is not the answer. Attacking an “ideology” is not the answer. Circling our wagons around our own self-satisfied, smug assurance of the ‘rightness’ of our own ‘way of life’ and the evil of those who oppose it in anyway only further marginalises and criminalises those who disagree, who feel excluded or judged or inescapably different.
As I write this, there is no official information about the identity or motives of the bomber available. ISIS has reportedly (and belatedly) ‘claimed’ responsibility – as they do for every attack on the West, as far as I can see, but this has not been ‘verified’ and would be treated by me as highly suspect in any event. Yet it seems that everywhere I look people are talking about “ideology” and “terrorists” and rooting out this “cancer”.
You see, those who carry out such attacks are not, cannot be, actual members of our society. They cannot be “like us” or one of us. It is convenient when such attackers are ‘foreign’ either in religion or nationality as that makes ‘other-ising’ them easier, but even when brutal attacks on children are perpetrated in Western nations by homegrown white people (think Sandy Hook, December 2012), we still have to find a way to other-ise the perpetrators. He was unstable, a loner, mentally ill – anything other than the boy next door, a member of our community, someone who was quite obviously failed by his society, his school, his government. There may be those who are born to be killers, but I suspect the vast majority (if not all) who kill are created by the world in which they live. They are rejected and marginalised, treated differently because of trivial details of person or understanding. They are created by wars and bombs and the childhood trauma of losing home and loved ones. They are created by a society that hates what they love and calls their religion – their identity – evil with no real understanding of who they are or what they believe. They are created by a system of education that is unable to reach or teach, social care that fails to care, families that are too overstretched in pursuit of food and shelter to have time to invest in things like love and care.
All who commit these crimes are human beings. All were once babies, likely with mothers who loved them. They were born onto this earth just like the rest of us, and if life was less kind to them than it has been to us, that does not make them less human! If they have lacked the moral fibre or mental strength to tolerate a society which ignores and marginalises them, if they have been trained with poor values or seduced be violent rhetoric which promises them every good thing they feel incapable of obtaining by fair means, pity them, mourn their death, mourn that the world in which we lives continues to allow such things to occur – not by failing to be ‘tough enough’ on ‘radical ideology’, but by failing to love, to embrace difference, to promote understanding, to pursue peace, to know its neighbours.
Weep, weep for the dead children of Manchester, of Syria, of the Mediterranean, of the refugee camps, of natural disasters all over the world, but weep also for yourself, for the world in which we find ourselves, for the evil which we tolerate and call ‘good’ in order to maintain our own comfort and security. Weep for the bomber and every man, woman, and child like him who have so little to live for in this world and such a low value for life – even their own – that they would perpetrate such unspeakable acts against the helpless and innocent.
And when we have wept, perhaps it will be time to consider the kind of society, the kind of world, in which we would like to live, and how we might go about building it.