Manchester terror attack: Britain has never seen anything like this
The Manchester attack is different in that it appears to be the first incident of suicide bombing in Britain, a country that has long witnessed political violence in Northern Ireland and elsewhereeditorials Updated: May 24, 2017 17:40 IST
Words and visuals following a terror attack have become all too familiar in recent years. Names of cities no longer mean a geographical location alone: Paris, Nice, Brussels, London. The latest addition to the list of capitals of conflict is Manchester, another city with a long and proud history, where 22 people enjoying a pop concert on Monday night perished in what appears to be a suicide bombing; there could not be a softer target: a concert hall packed with thousands of children and teenagers enjoying a sell-out event. The response to such attacks always follows a script: blanket coverage in the news media, brave words by leaders, forests of flowers at the scenes of attack, forensic reconstruction by the police, and a return to normalcy – until the next attack. It was only two months ago that the script was played out when Khalid Masood mowed down pedestrians on the Westminster Bridge in London in a speeding car.
But the Manchester attack is different in that it appears to be the first incident of suicide bombing in Britain, a country that has long witnessed political violence in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. London was also the target in July 2005, when serial blasts across its transport network killed over 50 people. No killing can be viewed as normal, but the Manchester attack is clearly a step-up in the kind of terrorism Britain has faced so far. It not only indicates the existence in the country of individuals prepared to undertake the task – for whatever reason – but also a network, without which such acts are not possible; it was hitherto a feature of conflict in the Middle East or Pakistan, not in Britain or Europe.
Since August 2014, the official threat level from international terrorism has been set to ‘severe’ in Britain, which means an attack is ‘highly likely’; it was put in place when Theresa May was the Home secretary. The Manchester attack has happened on her watch as the prime minister, opening a new front at a time when she was hoping to sort out biting Brexit-related politics through an election on June 8. The cut-and-thrust of electoral politics is a sign of normalcy in a democracy, but Manchester posed such a stepped-up threat that all campaigning has been suspended until further notice. It was poignant that the Manchester blast happened few hours after the Indian high commission in London had observed the annual ‘Anti-Terrorism Day’ to mark the day former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991. It needs no repeating that terrorism knows no borders and that the globalisation of terror is a reality, but all global powers – current, past or waning ones such as Britain – must reflect on the fact that actions and causes in one part of the world may trigger reaction in another.