On the eve of the tribute concert for the victims of Manchester’s bombing, politicians and policy-makers can draw lessons from the response of this great city to the horrendous events that occurred two weeks ago. But this article is less analysis than a cri de coeur for a hometown that has once again risen to the challenge it faces and shown how we should all respond to security concerns.
Manchester is special. Everyone from Manchester knows it. Whether you’ve lived there your whole life or arrived two weeks ago, Manchester is your home. From the outside, it’s a second city overshadowed by the fame and history of London. From the inside, there’s a fierce pride defined by what we are, not what we are not. We sit in nobody’s shadow. We are not a faint echo or the weaker twin. We know our identity and it beats inside the heart of every Mancunian.
Manchester has always been subversive. We brook no tradition because that’s how we create and grow. We bend the arc of social justice; we have done so for hundreds of years. Justice and truth were burnt into the metal our city produced. We are a city of creation and birth. We bring new things to life. Whether in music, health, education, sports or cotton, we are the seat of radical invention.
Where Manchester blazes a path, there follows the world.
We birthed the National Health Service — I was born in its very first hospital. We led the suffragette movement for women’s emancipation; we are the heart of trade unions and the Guardian newspaper. From Manchester sprang the Industrial Revolution, but also the movement to abolish slavery. We invented the computer and split the atom. We gave the world Oasis and Joy Division, the Haçienda and acid house.
We gave the world a home. For decades, waves of immigrants arrived in our city, and our city stretched and grew to embrace them. From Jewish people in the 1930s, to Caribbean families in the 1950s, to Indians in the 1960s, to Pakistanis in the 1970s, to Syrians today: the hallmark of Manchester is home.
We did multiculturalism before it was fashionable. We did it without showiness or strife. We are home to a mile of curry restaurants, a China Town, one of the oldest gay villages in Europe. We are the most linguistically diverse city in Europe. Our kids use Punjabi slang without even realizing it. Not only is curry our national dish, we did fusion cuisine before the New York Times decided it was cool. Don’t underestimate the greatness of a chip naan (fries inside a naan bread, with raita, mango chutney and ketchup: snack food of champions) until you’ve tried it.
We see injustice and we run toward it. We never back down from a fight. When you come for Manchester, you’d better not miss.
We are at our best when under threat. Anyone in Britain will tell you a Manc can be recognized instantly, by a spirit, a passion, a contrarian streak that won’t be tamed. We are fiery and stubborn and will have your back whenever you need it. We see injustice and we run toward it. We never back down from a fight. When you come for Manchester, you’d better not miss.
The IRA came for us once, with the biggest bomb the UK has seen since the Second World War. It levelled city blocks and a mall. Outsiders are often surprised by the chirpiness with which Mancunians speak about the bombing (nobody was killed, although there were many injuries) — but the IRA did us a favour. The bombing actually catalyzed the regeneration of the city centre. The mall was an eyesore. It looked like a 1970s public washroom, all pistachio tile and wet-dog smell. We went back to basics and redesigned our city from scratch. It’s now an incredible fusion of a Roman amphitheatre, an 1850s corn exchange and gleaming steel and glass: a perfect encapsulation of this old, modern, defiant city.
Since May 22, the world has seen this defiance — the contrarian instinct that says not only will we not cower, we will go out there and be more Manchester, more human, more generous and more free than you imagined possible.
You can tell the soul of a city by its reaction in that very first moment — by what it is called to do at that point of sheer panic, when it reacts instinctively. That’s how you know what is at a city’s very core.
Manchester didn’t even consider locking its doors. It didn’t occur to Manchester to cave to the soothing sounds of intolerance and Islamophobia.
In those moments, Manchester delivered a soul, a spirit and an outpouring of kindness, strength and compassion. Because that should be the response to terrorism. Manchester didn’t even consider locking its doors. It didn’t occur to Manchester to cave to the soothing sounds of intolerance and Islamophobia.
Instead, Mancunians ran toward the Manchester Arena, offering food, a place to sleep and free taxi rides. Mancunians delivered food and blankets to overworked doctors and nurses at local hospitals. Manchester Muslims organized the first vigil at the Town Hall. Gurdwaras opened their doors for mass community meals. Mancs queued around the block to give blood — so many that the clinics couldn’t accommodate them all.
Ordinary blokes in the street delivered eloquent soliloquies on the power of diversity and the strength of our common endeavour. Skinhead men who wouldn’t look out of place at a football riot ran out of sports shops to intervene in a small racist march, running shoes still in hand. A Muslim woman in a Union Jack hijab talked about every child on our land being her child, in a Manc accent so broad, US networks subtitled it.
Greater Manchester Police issued statements emphasizing our city’s refusal to be defeated and talking repeatedly about the strength of Manchester’s diversity. The Mayor of Greater Manchester penned an op-ed saying the Manchester bomber no more represents Muslims than the murderer of MP Jo Cox represents Christians.
While numerous raids have been carried out across the city, Manchester hasn’t descended into a state of fear or reactionary panic. Manchester has calmly carried on — carried on loving, helping and grieving together.
There is a lesson for us all in Manchester. When the world “looked for the helpers,” as the famous quote says, it found Manchester.
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