Manchester and terror – some thoughts

It’s been three whole days since a lone attacker detonated a bomb after a concert in Manchester, killing 22 and injuring at least 50, but the impact hasn’t subsided yet. I’m seeing a number of news items about the incident being shared on Facebook, and it seems like new information is always coming in, so people are still talking about it. I’m aware that this is a sensitive subject, so I’ll try to word things as carefully as I can here.

The incident reminded me, amongst other things, of how some people around me have reacted to similar atrocities in the past. I’ve heard them asking why we don’t show the same level of solidarity when an attack happens in another part of the world. It’s got to the point where I’ve seen the ‘discussion’ becoming quite heated, and people almost refusing to participate in vigils and such because they felt that victims of other incidents were being ignored.

I can see their point. It’s not uncommon for terrible incidents like these to happen outside the Western world, without being all over the news. The day after the Manchester attack, a group of militants linked to the Islamic State group swept through a city in the south of the Philippines, killing 21 – one fewer than were killed in Manchester on Monday night. That’s just one such incident. And yet, you’ll hear virtually no one talking about it compared to the Manchester attack. Why not?

Here’s the answer I’d like to posit: Our reactions to tragedy are relative, and not all of these events are going to evoke the same reactions in us. The fact is that the Manchester attack happened in our own country – for some people, it happened literally just around the corner, and they will have had loved ones injured or even killed in the incident. Can we appreciate that this will be a bigger deal for them than an incident which happened far away from them, and by which nobody they knew was affected? This isn’t to say that incidents elsewhere in the world aren’t important; it’s just that these things tend to hit closer to home when they literally are closer to home.

Ultimately, I want to stand by all victims of terror attacks, whether they be in Manchester or Marawi. They have my sympathy, and I wish them nothing but shalom. However, I’d be lying if I said that all of these incidents make an equal impact on me. The combination of geographical distance, media coverage and the reactions from those around me (which all actually feed off each other) has ensured that that is not the case. So let’s not berate each other for ‘not showing compassion’ towards terror victims in other countries; instead, let’s sit with each other in our grief, doing our best to listen and understand.

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