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The Manchester bombing and the battle for peace

31-05-2017-manchester-bombing-590.jpg [Related Image]
A Muslim man named Sadiq Patel and a Jewish woman named Renee Rachel Black walk by floral tributes in Albert Square in Manchester, Britain 24 May 2017. © REUTERS/Darren Staples

It’s hard to speak the truth when grief and anger are at their peak, writes Mari Marcel Thekaekara.

Mancunians hold a special place in our hearts. ‘Just Change tea’, from the adivasis of Gudalur, South India, has been on the shelves of a shop called Unicorn in Chorlton for over a decade. People are friendlier, more smiley. But it’s the Mancunian spirit which captures your heart.

I wasn’t surprised when I read that posh Manchester hotels offered free beds to the families of people affected by the bombing. Or that ordinary people opened their homes to strangers and taxi drivers offered free rides to people in need of help. The sight of children marching brought tears to many eyes, resurrecting images of eight-year-old Saffie Roussos, the youngest child to die that night. But Manchester marched and sang and refused to be cowed. It’s the Mancunian way.

Mumbai showed pretty much the same spirit in 2011 when the bombers hit. The Mumbaikar is India’s version of Britain’s Mancunian. But that’s another story.

The bombers and terrorists are cowardly, despicable, hateful people. There’s no excuse for killing innocent people. But I agree with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that foreign policy – such as when his predecessor Tony Blair led Britain into the now proven, unjustifiable bombing of Iraq – has ignited a wave of hatred and a desire for revenge that is going to take an army of peace-keepers to overcome. It isn’t the wisest thing for a politician to say publicly, particularly when the entire country is raw and wounded. When grief and anger are at their peak, on the eve of an election.

Yet Corbyn is more truthful than any other politician I have read about. He seems to place truth and soul searching before winning.

I heard stories about young Muslim boys whose mothers and sisters had been raped and killed in a genocide in Gujarat, western India in 2002. Hundreds of these young boys were whisked away to Pakistan to be trained as terrorists. They were perfect jihadist material with anger and hatred in their hearts for what they had witnessed. Those boys must have been seething with anger and grief, feeling frustrated, impotent and totally helpless to avenge the evil that had been inflicted on their mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins.

But as I write this, my appeal is not to look back and point fingers. I recently had a conversation with a wise friend – Richard Zipfel, who has worked for social justice all his life, for more than 40 years.. He pointed out that when the US armed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to fight the Russians, it was foreign policy which might have seemed the best option at the time. Bombing Iraq might have had more to do with the billions that arms dealers made. The men who made those decisions did not think of the young soldiers, British or American, who came back in body bags. Whatever.

I think now, more than ever, we need to look at creating links all over the world to fight terror differently. ‘Bombing the hell out of ‘em’ might sound like sweet revenge to many more people than we imagine. We need to create a world peace brigade where leaders of all religions join together, putting differences aside, putting politics aside and forging ahead to stop the bombings and the hate.

We need a new slogan. ‘Stop Hate. Make peace’.

Does this sound trite, I wonder? But coming from India where hatred is being ignited, provoked and

actively encouraged, I worry on a daily basis about what my country will look like a decade from now. Being surrounded by hatred and by armies of Nazi-like goons is frightening no matter where you live on this planet. There was a 1970s poster, which went something like – ‘If there must be war let it be in my lifetime so that the children can live in peace.’

But today we need to fight for peace. It’s a battle that’s as important as saving the planet from climate change. This battle for peace needs to begin right away.

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  1. #1 Chandrika Sen Sharma 01 Jun 17

    I wonder what the cowardly bombers were hoping to achieve, striking at a concert frequented by teens and pre teens! What is the message they are promoting? Is it just kill all non believers? It is so absurd that the rest of the muslim world is not more outspoken in condemning this sort of barbarity! I think once that happens, and once they unite in rooting out the extremists in their midst, only then will the world see some sort of peace.

    Chandrika Sen Sharma

  2. #2 Maggie 01 Jun 17

    I agree about the foreign policy -- Bush and Blair, and their Iraq war which started off the whole sequence of collapses in the Middle East -- having a destructive and disastrous impact in the region, globally as well. But I am afraid that when Jeremy Corbyn says this in today's election contest, it plays to the right-wing and even not-so-right-wing view that he excuses terrorism and is willing to justify the rage that prompts certain people to ignite bombs and cause innocent people to die. qv Ireland, qv anti-apartheid. How do you stay progressive and peace-loving and win elections in the crude, cruel, and divided world of today?

  3. #3 Christine Bent 01 Jun 17

    Hi Mari

    We live in a media world where love and hate is projected accordingly. There is a constant battle between good and evil and it's is real and (and has been)ongoing - The media only talks about the 'bad' around the world. I sometimes think evil is displayed more and hence evil wins... so when it is celebrated in the way the media does ... the evil wants to replicate it knowing this is the only way to get the attention of the masses.

    I wish the media could project some of the things some good people do so that people are inspired and encouraged to act like them.. Lets create some heroes out of the good people do.. rather than making headlines and stories (hundreds of them) about the evil and most hated people in the world.

    I live in a world where God is celebrated more than the Devil.. and I would like to see more articles of human beings acting and behaving in a godly way rather than the devilish way. Because there are many good people who's stories are even more interesting than the 'worlds most hated'...

  4. #4 Simeon 07 Jun 17

    This article seems to have been written by someone who has been sitting in a hermitage for twenty years. Ms Thekaekara writes sentences in the passive mood to avoid placing responsibility: ’mothers and sisters had been raped and killed in a genocide in Gujarat... young boys were whisked away to Pakistan to be trained as terrorists...’ By whom? By followers of Richard Dawkins? By nuclear physicists of CERN? Obviously not. By religiously-deluded fanatics who thought that their particular brand of idiocy was the One True Faith.

    There can be no doubt that the incoherent and self-serving military adventures of the West in the Middle East and its refusal to confront the Israeli apartheid government have some effect in giving young men the excuse of victimhood that they want to embark on terrorist acts. Underlying that is a solid and unchanging faith in a supernatural deity who supposedly wants them to commit these cruelties.

    Please stop placing the blame for religiously motivated atrocities on the heads of Western governments. It wasn't Theresa May, Donald Trump or Angela Merkel that inspired three young men to stab seven people to death in London. Those men expected to be killed and then to go to some endless afterlife party. There is no afterlife. Humans never survive the death of their brains. Supernaturalism has had its day and needs to end. Liberal activists must join with secular humanists in this work, one of the most urgent and important tasks we face. Anything else is avoiding the issue.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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