By now you'll be aware of the attack on my home city. The area I love so passionately is all over the news today, not only here in the UK but worldwide. I'm sitting in a bar drinking coffee. This is where I type the blog you read every week. The wall mounted TV screens cover the news. As a rule it can seem generalised and remote: when Manchester's Albert Square and City Hall appear on screen it is usually a new business initiative or political coverage. Today there are images of flowers and interviews with those coming to terms with tragedy.
My home is New Islington Marina, part of Manchester's M4 district. I live, quite literally, within earshot of Manchester Arena. Half a mile away, it lies just outside Victoria railway station. When the blast went off, those 40 or so families who live here on the boats, heard it. As a student at the University of Manchester, I caught the train to visit my parents from that station. It was a place I associated with joy and pleasure. I've enjoyed so many gigs in the arena from Taylor Swift to Miley Cyrus. I love Ariana Grande too but I couldn't afford tickets. Being poor was a blessing this time around. The feeling now is one of joy turned to intense sadness.
At first we hoped for the best. There were rumours of an exploding speaker at Ariana Grande's concert, isolated reports of a girl injured and people running scared through the streets. As the news unfolded it became clear that this was no accident but a likely act of terrorism. On social media one or two friends began to lash out at the those who had carried out the attack. Inevitable allusions to Muslims and Islam were included. In fear and horror people can be very callous as well as afraid.
As morning broke the full scale of the atrocity emerged; 59 injured and 22 people dead, many of them children. Canal Street mourns too. One of the missing was Martyn Hett a member of Manchester's LGBT community. Known to many of our friends, he has since been listed among the dead. A 29 year old journalist and LGBT advocate he is a sad loss especially among those in the Gay Village. Given Ariana's fanbase, young girls and women were also counted among the victims. In Manchester life went on but the conversation was universally about one thing.
I run a pop-up coffee business. I trade in the suburb of Wythenshawe. I work in the main shopping precinct enjoying the wonderful camarardarie of other street traders. Among them are a Muslim couple who have their own fashion stall. Inevitably we talked about what had happened, my customers too. Most people were condemnatory of the bombing. My Muslim stall holder neighbours condemned the violence too. Even so, many passing their stall looked daggers at them as if they were to blame. I overheard another man outside a cafe decrying all Muslims as hateful and expressing a wish that 'they be sent home'.
After work, like many other Mancunians, myself and my husband made our way to Albert Square. It was a beautiful sunny evening but there were police everywhere. As we passed through Piccadilly Gardens I saw two police officers with sub-automatic weapons. When we got to the square we found it packed with people. Politicians of all shades denounced the attack as we stood together to remember those killed in the blast. There was a spirit of unity and a refusal to be intimidated. On one of the monuments however some of the English Defence League shouted xenophobic hate and echoed the sentiments I heard earlier. Earlier, a rally of EDL supporters had done the same on Market Street.
My mother's family were Jewish settlers, My father comes from a Christian background. I was brought up a Quaker girl, raised in a tradition of peace, pacifism and respect for all people. I'm proud to call myself a Mancunian. I'm also a transsexual woman and no stranger to hate. I'm aware of being barely tolerated by some in the college where I previously worked. By some convoluted argument, I was made to understand that as a Trans person, I was responsible for undermining family values. Individuals like me were to blame for the disintegration of society, yet I'm simply a woman. It is a hateful argument, one with no evidence and but strangely pervasive among those willing to hate. I see much the same argument against those who want Muslisms 'sent home'. It ignores that so many of Manchester's Muslim community were born and raised here. They are Mancunians too.
Please don't let us turn the Manchester bombing into a hate campaign against Muslims or anybody else. This was an extremist attack not an act of war by one faith group on another. It has given us an opportunity to show we stand together; a whole community, united in diversity not divided in difference.
Huggs and Peace,