On Tuesday morning, an NPR correspondent reporting on the terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert in the U.K. tried to explain Manchester to American listeners this way: Attacking that city would be like attacking a burg in the Midwest.
That’s not a perfect analogy. England’s second city was not only the world’s first industrial center but also a place that has been bombed before, and by more fearsome enemies, most notably during the Christmas Blitz of 1940. It was also targeted repeatedly by IRA terrorists, whose 1996 explosion injured 200 people.
Still, proud, sports-crazy, solidly working-class Manchester, population 530,000, does have enough in common with Kansas City that it reminds us such things don’t happen only in world capitals like New York or Paris, or in major tourist towns like Nice.
Manchester’s young mayor, Andy Burnham, spoke so movingly about standing up to the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility, and to whatever individual martyr for nothing thought killing kids as young as 8 might prove anything beyond his own nihilism and depravity. “We’re not going to be defeated,” Burnham said, but are instead going to keep right on responding as a community through acts of kindness to strangers as well as neighbors in the aftermath of the violence.
But the attack, coinciding with President Donald Trump’s first foreign trip as president, also reminded us of a few realities beyond our own vulnerability.
First, contrary to Trump’s campaign-season promises that no such brutality would occur in our country on his watch, can we just acknowledge that no mortal politician can credibly make such a claim? Particularly in the kind of free society we all want to live in, there’s no perfect protection from an idea.
Then, too, it has become clear that attacks like this latest affront to our shared humanity are ever so gradually losing the power to terrorize us. This is not to say that we ever become inured to the loss of life, but if we mourn with less shock and more determination, the terrorist loses his power.
Finally, it underlines the necessity of Trump’s recent rhetorical shift on Islam; yes, we do need partners in the Muslim world, and no, we won’t forge or strengthen such relationships with insults.
His decision to tag those who carry out such attacks as “losers” has been derided as immature. But in refusing to present ISIS foot soldiers as larger-than-life monsters, we think he’s on the right track.