A month ago, terror struck an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. As concert goers were leaving the arena, a 22-year-old Manchester-born Islamic Extremist detonated a nail bomb, killing 22 and injuring over 100. Chaos filled the scene in the following hours, as families struggled to reunite with their young children attending the pop concert. Large parts of the community came together in those late night hours, as taxi drivers and others drove concertgoers home and local homes and Sikh Temples offered shelter to those affected.
This past weekend, I was in Manchester, and I could not even tell that a terror attack had occurred. People carried on with life, there wasn’t a feeling of dread or fear in the air, life was going on as usual. This stands in stark contrast to a trip to Belgium I took last year. I was in Belgium several months after the attacks on the airport and metro system in the city, and the picture there was bleak. People moved around quietly, I didn’t hear laughter in the streets, which were largely empty by 6 PM. I recognize that there are cultural differences, or in the case of Belgium “lack-of-culture” differences, but I could definitely sense an overwhelming feeling of insecurity in Belgium that I did not see a hint of in Manchester. With yesterday’s failed terror attack in Belgium, I am sure that those same conditions still exist. In Manchester, police presence was normal, in Belgium, they were armed for war.
It hasn’t been long enough to fully analyze which approach is better, either continuing as normal or essentially turning into a proto-police state, but I would be willing to bet that the former will have better results. ISIS and those who follow their ideology want people to live in fear of them, unable to enjoy life due to the constant thought that an attack will hit them. Living in fear isn’t any way to live, and the people of Manchester know that. A city that survived years of Luftwaffe bombings will not be cowed by fanatics. While military action against ISIS is necessary to defeat their ideology, the best thing that everyday people can do is to go on living, laughing and loving. While these attacks are horrible, they will not defeat us if we refuse to be disheartened.
In 1984, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher valiantly addressed her party’s conference the morning after an IRA bomb was detonated at the Brighton hotel. Thatcher declared that “…The fact that we are gathered here now—shocked, but composed and determined—is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail”. That same British spirit, of perseverance in the face of adversity, lives on today in Manchester.