I studied for four years at Manchester University and the city chewed me up and spat me out as a different person. It was probably the period of my life where I learnt the most about interacting with other people from wildly different backgrounds. It changed my life in terms growing a sense of tolerance and understanding of others that I doubt I would have gained had I not attended Manchester University. That's not to say I wouldn't have learnt the same lessons in time or somewhere else, however Manchester has its own inimitable style and society. Manchester was a vibrant, cosmopolitan, gritty, multi-cultural mish mash of city culture and has grown to be even more so.
When I heard the news of a terrorist attack early this morning, my heart sank. The last time I heard of a terrorist attack in Manchester was in 1996 when the IRA detonated a bomb in the city centre, which thankfully resulted in no fatalities although hundreds of people were injured. But, there is a stark difference between these attacks, irrespective of the political differences. The IRA attack in 1996 involved a warning and an evacuation before the bomb was detonated, whereas the Manchester Arena attack was a vicious attack by stealth and without warning.
With the news a suicide bombing being carried out at an event which was predominantly aimed at children and younger adults, it's a deeply sad reminder of what the power of misguided hatred can do. 22 dead and 59 hurt and for what end? How can the deliberate killing or maiming of another person be morally justified in any doctrine or mindset?
So, as we all hear about this awful news and with the inevitable buzz of this tragedy being spread over social media, there's already the slogan of #standtogether being the hashtag of solidarity. But, what does it actually mean for us to Stand Together? My personal view is that it should mean the following:
Of course, not everyone can help with a high profile incident in a specific part of the country and you can query what it is you can do to make a difference. However, if an opportunity arises, then you sacrifice that bit of time or inconvenience to help. It doesn't have to be ground-breaking or newsworthy. It's just a matter of wanting to make a difference, regardless of how big that difference is.
2. Avoiding prejudice
To me, standing together means being beside your fellow man/woman regardless of their background or identity in times like this. These attacks always trigger those natural questions of "who?" and "why?" and it's easy to prejudge the outcome. It's also easy to revert to stereotypes and soon a whole group of society are the perpetrators and not the terrorist organisation or the depraved lone wolf.
3. Showing support
Sometimes it provides some limited comfort to know that people are thinking of you and that they care about the pain you are going through. It doesn't change the awful circumstances, nor does it give you the outcome you wish for, but it can provide some solidarity when hateful people are trying to rip it apart. It's sometimes a worthy reminder that love is greater and never fails even in the worst of times.
4. Moving together
Ironically, I actually think that standing together means not standing at all, but moving forward. We should never forget these awful incidents and those affected will be scarred mentally if not physically by these events. However, if we are all able to struggle and look to forge a future which is based on fellowship, rather than enmity, then we might just overcome some of the evils that arise in our world.
Needless to say, it is easy for me to write about, and hypothesise over, what it means to stand together when I am not directly affected by yesterday's attack. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who were affected. May we condemn these hateful acts and hope in a better society, where we all seek to stand together to understand and love one another.