Ayesha Hazarika: Manchester bomber and right-wing are alike in desire for hate and division

I really hoped I wouldn't have to write another column about a terrorist attack for a long time. The last one was only eight weeks ago with the attacks at Westminster. Today with a heavy heart, I open up my laptop and begin writing the same column again and feeling the same anger, fear and heartbreak.
A woman wearing an 'I heart MCR' T-shirt makes her way to lay flowers in St Ann Square in Manchester. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesA woman wearing an 'I heart MCR' T-shirt makes her way to lay flowers in St Ann Square in Manchester. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
A woman wearing an 'I heart MCR' T-shirt makes her way to lay flowers in St Ann Square in Manchester. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Like so many, I went to sleep ­hoping, or rather praying, it was a terrible freak electrical fault and woke up to the news that it was ­terrorist attack. The depth of the cruelty and depravity was breath-taking even in these terror-hardened times. And as Nicola Sturgeon said, it was an act of cowardice to attack young people and children enjoying a night out.

A sugary American pop concert by a former teen queen Ariana Grande, filled with children, teenagers – mostly girls – is the softest of all human targets. For many it was their first pop concert. For some it was their first without mum or dad. A special coming of age moment. Your very first taste of grown up freedom. Imagine the terror those mostly young girls must have felt when the bomb went off and how they must have screamed for their parents? Imagine what they saw. Imagine how it will haunt them.

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Imagine the premeditation of ­calculating the impact of using a pop concert, which brings people together in a happy bubble of joy, song, dance, laughter and warmth? Maybe that was it. Someone who could not bear the idea of young people in happy cultural unity, so they had to destroy it, and them.

We are starting to learn the names of the dead. Georgina Callander, 18 years old, was a major fan and had tweeted excitedly just hours before the show. And wee Saffie Rose Roussos – just eight years old – who had become separated from her mum and sister.

This man was a child murderer. As the Muslim Council of Britain said: “May the perpetrators face the full weight of the justice both in this life and the next.” For once I agree with Donald Trump – he was a “loser”. Death and division was his goal.

The irony was that Manchester came together in the minutes and hours afterwards. An act of hate was met with kindness and Mancunians from all races and religions rallied to help. Local hotels gave shelter. People opened their homes. Cab drivers gave lifts home. And, of course, the local NHS staff, police and emergency services worked through the night.

This has been a long dark night and people will be angry, scared, confused and hurt. The city will need time to grieve and heal.

The city led by recently-elected mayor Andy Burnham will have a huge task to bring people together and make them feel united and I have every faith in him and ­Manchester – a strong, proud, vibrant city of music, comedy, ­curries and character.

But there are of course difficult and profound questions about who did this, why and how?

It’s naïve to not have that conversation and we must be honest and fearless – when we have the facts.

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We must keep cool heads and warm hearts as we navigate our response to this murder. No one should want to give this man his ultimate desire of fuelling hate and infecting us with his poison.

It’s very easy to sow division when you are rightly angry and raw. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and tar everyone from one race or ­religion with the same brush. It’s not as simple as that, and that is no more sophisticated than the thugs that commit these crimes.

These conversations are difficult. As someone from a Muslim background, I already feel the weight of guilt by association because I know that’s what people are thinking and, indeed, tweeting angrily.

I’m angry. You’re angry. We’re all angry. No one has the monopoly on how much they hate this man and his ilk, although those who lost loved ones are at the front of the queue.

I can understand why people lash out and there are those who will leap on this to make a crass social and political point. That is deeply unhelpful and self-defeating. It ­genuinely is what that man would want you to do.

The usual suspects – and I don’t even want to give them the oxygen of publicity today – are screeching “empty platitudes are not enough… WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING!” What would these people have us do to make the situation better and not worse? Intern every ­Muslim or dusky-looking person with a funny name? Would that help? A bit of vigilante revenge violence or civil unrest? A spot of intimidation like the overnight attacks on mosques in Oldham and Birmingham? Does that make us feel ­better, safer and more at ease? Nope. Of course not.

Some of these people on the right are as dumb as the ­terrorists they hate and have more in common than they realise. They both hate our rich mix of diversity, ­culture and tolerance – and that the majority sees it as a strength.

There will be questions to be asked but I hope certain communities and individuals will not be sought out and punished. Any decent human with a beating heart and a functioning brain, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew or of no religion whatsoever, will hate and mourn what this disgusting, ­violent, shameful excuse of a man did. The ideology of extremism must be fought with everything we have but in an intelligent manner which doesn’t play right into their hands and give them what they want – more hate and division.

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As we grieve for the children of Manchester, and emotions run high, I sadly, once again, revisit the spirit of Kurt Cochran – one of the victims of the Westminster attack. His family said they decided to embody his philosophy, which was not to deny that negative things happen but to choose not to live in the negative. Hope trumps hate.