Over two decades since the IRA detonated a 1,500 kilogram truck bomb in Corporation Street, the towering walls of the heart of the North have been made to quake once again. An attack being labelled as terrorism was carried out in Manchester Arena as an Ariana Grande concert concluded, killing 22 people, children included, and injuring over one hundred others.
Fans were spotted fleeing the 21,000 capacity venue following an orange and red blast of light, a deafening boom as a chorus of young screams filled the arena to the ceilings. Some young fans were still wearing 23 year old Ariana's signature kitten ears as they fled the scene in terror. And not unlike the way a devastating earthquake is followed by a series of tremors, the aftermath of the tragedy is being felt around the world, several days on.
You might have noticed in the last few days, if you live in one of the country's larger cities, that armed police have been issued to patrol as part of Operation Temperer, an established security measure created in 2015 following a series of shootings and killings in the Ile-de-France region. You are also likely to see soldiers offering support to law enforcement in sensitive security locations, such as Parliament, train stations, and other built-up civilian areas. Theresa May announced that the country would be put on critical threat level under the rubric of ensuring Britain's safety, meaning that the threat of further terrorist activity is considered "imminent". Whilst the Manchester attacker detonated a single bomb in a lone attack, there is no room to allow ourselves to believe that he wasn't part of a network of similarly evil individuals, with similarly evil intentions, she claims.
The frightening addition of weaponry that we can only assume would be better suited in a war zone begs one question after another in a boundless debate about extremism, and how to tackle it in order to protect national security. My first and last questions about the necessity of such heavy artillery being displayed and made available for potential use remain the same: If the way we command ourselves is in such a way that suggests we are at war, are we to be remotely surprised when war finds its way onto our streets?
Unsurprisingly, extremist group ISIS were quick to claim responsibility for the attack, despite there being no current evidence to suggest that these claims are reliable. Their claim over the attack was simple and chilling: "We killed your children."
Have we offered the reaction to their provocation that ISIS needs to drive their campaign forward? I wouldn't express any shock if this were the exact method of retaliation that they were expecting of us. Any example they can draw from us of division, fear and hatred, embellished with supporting evidence on social media, is nothing more than heartening to them. The moment we allow cursory examples of hate speech of our own to enter our vernacular, and for every poorly-spelt, angry emoji-embellished Facebook post we create without thinking about whether or not it's the right thing to do, we facilitate shoving another disenfranchised, shamed individual into their hands. For just enough time that it will take for them to compose a plan, and return to attempt to kill us for such.
French journalist, and former Islamic State hostage Nicholas Henin described the center of their world view as "the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned towards finding supporting evidence for this". Henin has detailed more than once the details of what fuels power into the Islamic State. Fear, hatred, division, any morsel of racism or xenophobia that can be drawn from on social media is precisely what they use to convince the shamed and the confused that "Muslims cannot live in harmony with the West, or in other communities". We are handing otherwise good men and women into the arms of a network of lunatics, allowing them to kill themselves, our friends, our family and our children, and as a result we threaten their friends, their family, and their children, only giving them further reason to drag bodies from our community to repeat the process all over again.
I believe my safety is more compromised by armour clad men cradling assault rifles, and I do not welcome their presence in my city. We do not live in a totalitarian state, governed by a police force, that places us under their surveillance. Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. My heart sinks for Muslim, and non-Muslim mothers alike who, this morning, had to explain to their daughters and sons about the man near the bus stop with the Big Scary Gun, and the Bad Man that stood him there.
I refuse to believe that any of us by now share the same amount of brain cells with a household kitchen appliance. I refuse to believe that we are foolish enough to ignore evidence when it is presented to us, or that we struggle to understand that the two things you cannot take back are words from your mouth, and bullets from a gun. And, as is becoming more and more apparent in the wake of more and more terrorist attacks on our country, and several others in Western Europe, the two are having similarly catastrophic effects. Your guns are not my guns, and if you use them, I will not accept them being used in my name.