1996 and now: Two bombs, two worlds

May 24, 2017

by Martin Odoni

I moved from Glasgow to Manchester in May 1996. That was just one month before the Provisional Irish Republican Army bombed Corporation Street, wrecking a dozen city centre buildings and partially destroying the Arndale Centre.

What happened at the Manchester Arena on Monday night was clearly far worse, but having attended the Vigil in Albert Square on Tuesday evening, and then walked along the rebuilt Corporation Street up to the police cordon starting at The Printworks, my thoughts were inevitably taken back to that startling morning twenty-one years ago. Not least because the cordon appears to have been set up less than thirty metres from where the IRA bomb went off. (Coincidence I am sure.)

The cordon on Corporation Street.

The National Football Museum centre, the Printworks on the right edge of the picture. Victoria Railway Station is the building covered in tarpaulin. The cordon keeping people away from the MEN Arena starts here. The roof of the Arena can be glimpsed in the distance to the left of the Museum.

The IRA were not completely without scruples, and to their (slight) credit, they did tend to give evacuation warnings before triggering a bomb. Hence, even though it was the largest bomb ever detonated on the British mainland in peacetime, no one died in the 1996 attack. Truth to tell, while most Mancunians felt angry and violated by the attack, and there were some serious injuries, it was more a matter of hurt pride than an all-out atrocity. It can also be a bit of a shock to look back to pictures from before the attack and be reminded of how different, ultilitarian, and even shabby the affected zone looked back in the early-1990’s, when compared to how it appears today. So you could almost argue that the bombing did Manchester a back-handed favour, as it forced the city to give its central hub a handy facelift to get it out of the 1960’s.

On Monday night however, Salman Abedi crossed several lines that the IRA did not. Not only did he not offer any prior warning before he attacked, but he appears to have very deliberately targeted children. Even the two boys killed in the Warrington Bomb Attacks in 1993 were not specifically targeted by the IRA (even if the IRA and their allies in Sinn Fein showed little notable remorse over the deaths).

Although I am not a Mancunian – and truth to tell I doubt I will ever truly feel Manchester is my ‘home’ – I have been a resident of the city during both of the big terrorist attacks on it. And I do feel strong enough links to the city now to feel personally hurt by them both. But for all the ‘deja vu‘ sensation of the last forty-eight hours, I have concluded that the similarity between the attacks is slight. June 1996 was a shock, but only on Monday night did the city witness horror.

Those who say terrorism was new to Britain prior to about 2005 are talking nonsense of course. But those who say that there is ‘nothing new’ about the terrorism we experience in the post-IRA era are equally in error. Radical Islam is objectively far more ruthless, indiscriminate, and relentless than Militant Irish Republicanism.

Certainly I will not join the foolish, manipulative/knee-jerk cries of the hard-right to close the borders, to intern terror suspects without trial, to turn away all refugees, or to exterminate British Islam.

Somewhere between the words 'Hopkins' and 'Katie' in the dictionary, you will of course find the word 'hypocrite'.

Katie Hopkins thought criticism of hard-right activism after the Jo Cox murder was exploitative. That has not stopped her from using the deaths of 22 people at the MEN Arena to call for a ‘Final Solution’ against Muslims though.

Nor do I want to imply that Islamist attacks are particularly commonplace in the UK. They are likely to remain a less frequent feature of British life than Irish Republican attacks were. No, people should not become consumed by paranoia and assume that it can never be possible to live safely, or that there will be a major threat to their lives every time they open their front door. To their credit, the people of Manchester have demonstrated since the Arena Bombing that they are indeed not easily cowed.

Equally, I will always argue against letting Governments – especially Tory ones – manipulate this threat to grant themselves ever-more-unchallengeable power. Hence, I am very concerned about the decision to raise the Terror Threat level and put troops on the streets, while also doubting it will have any effect on precisely the people it is supposedly meant to stop.

But at the same time, we do have to recognise that the picture has changed. The threat between the early-1970’s and late-1990’s is not the same as the threat today. The threat today is blind to all notions of honour, and attaches no value to human life, except for the value of ending it; the more lives it takes, the better it assumes it is doing. The mindset is that basic and primitive. No matter how much the British media like to vilify the name of the IRA, in practise, Irish Republicans were never so bloodthirsty as Radical Islamists.

I do not accept that the threat can reliably be labelled ‘Daesh’, or ‘ISIS’, or ‘ISIL’, as all these names, like ‘al-Qaeda‘ before them, are ill-defined. ISIS, in the sense of the extremist army presently trying to conquer Iraq and Syria, does not have the reach that its mimickers in other countries make it seem to possess, and it is only by accepting that those mimickers really are members of that army that the assumption gains traction. And I repeat, an attack in the UK is not as likely as it was in the IRA’s time. But when an attack does happen, it is more likely to kill innocents.

So to compare the two attacks on Manchester, the conclusion is unavoidable; the enemy has changed, and with it, all idea of what constitutes ‘scruples’ has changed too. Paranoia is not needed; to become scared and intimidated or hostile would be to give the enemy what they want, while jumping at shadows will not help anybody. But vigilance is crucial, because the consequences of ill-judged complacency are worse than they once were. Even children are now being seen as legitimate targets, rather than just as ‘collateral damage’. Civilian spaces are now seen as indistinct from military ones.

Confusing the threat of the present with the threat of the past will always lead us to choose the wrong approach to counter it. While there is no need actually to be scared, we do face some nervous times, but it is probably better to be nervous than oblivious.

I would now like to turn my attention to Ariana Grande, the singer whose concert ended in Monday’s tragedy. Now, it will not come as an earth-shaking surprise, I am sure, when I reveal that I am not a particular fan of Ariana’s music. Not a criticism of her, her style is just ‘not my thing’. But I bear her absolutely no ill-will either. Therefore, while I rather feared she would, I am saddened to learn that she has started feeling so much guilt over what happened on Monday that she is talking about retiring.

Ariana Grande might retire

Ariana Grande has been so traumatised by the Manchester Arena Bombing that she is considering retirement. But she should carry on.

I should make clear that I commend her wholeheartedly for her responsibility and compassion, but her retirement would be quite wrong. The Manchester Arena Bombing was not Ariana’s fault in any way, and so it would be an unjust shame if she retired from her career because of it. Even if her music does nothing for me, there are millions out there who adore it, and why should they be deprived because of one madman from Manchester? Ariana’s retirement would, inadvertently, make the attack a success, as it would indicate that Western culture can be intimidated into stopping doing what it wants to do, even the activities that harm no one.

There is no greater defiance of madmen and fanatics than simply demonstrating that life can carry on, no matter what they do to stop it. Nothing will infuriate them more. It shows to them that they were wrong to turn fanatical; when they did that, when they let their minds collapse, they stopped letting their own lives carry on as normal. So showing them that others can keep on keeping-on where they could not puts them to shame – makes them look weak. So Ariana Grande should carry on doing what she loves, partly as a tribute to the loyal fans who died, and partly to defeat Salman Abedi. She should keep on keeping-on.

There is no reason in the world to imagine she will ever read this, but in the enormously unlikely event that she does, I just want to say to her, “Do not retire because of this. Carry on because of this. Carry on with more determination and more feeling than ever before because of this. That way, and only that way, will you defeat the warped purpose behind the Manchester Arena Attack.”

One last thing to say, and I left it until last because it is the most important; –

May those who lost their lives far too soon rest in peace, may those who were injured, either physically or emotionally, find healing, and may those who have lost loved ones know that the great, great majority of Mankind i.e. the billions of decent people who are dominant everywhere, are with them.

3 Responses to “1996 and now: Two bombs, two worlds”

  1. Sophia.George πŸ’‹ Says:

    Reblogged this on Site Title and commented:
    Beautiful xx

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