On Monday 22 May, Manchester suffered its worst ever terrorist attack with the Manchester Arena bombing.
A few days later, the newspaper Jewish News asked me to write about it, and suggested covering the way that we react to such terrorism. The piece was published on their website on Sunday 28 May and is copied below along with some supplemental comments.
It’s over 30 years since my father died, of natural causes, after “a good innings” at 81. I still remember it like yesterday, although time gradually covers over the pain of loss.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam all contain practical rituals about what to do when somebody dies. A moment’s reflection shows that these rituals are not for the benefit of the deceased, but for the living to help them to adjust to the loss and move on with their lives. In the absence of such rituals, suppressing grief often results in later psychological problems.
Compared with the expected death of a parent, the mass murder of 22 people, many of them very young, attending a pop concert and then killed by a suicide bomber, is a trauma on an entirely different scale. It directly affects thousands of relatives and friends, not just of the deceased but also of the injured and of those who were there at the pop concert but who did not suffer physical harm.
Apart from the accomplices of the bomber, and those who share his hateful ideology, the whole of Manchester has been traumatised, with the level of suffering obviously varying with closeness to the deceased and injured.
How do the people of a city cope with such pain?
Just as individuals are helped to cope with personal loss by religious rituals, so also are the residents of a city. However, when our society is so diverse, the rituals cannot be exclusively those of one faith. They also need to include those who have no religious faith.
We saw this last week.
While individual religious organisations held services in their places of worship, the focal point for Mancunians collectively was our civic “sacred space” of Albert Square in front of Manchester Town Hall. This is where for over a century Mancunians have celebrated triumphs and shared the pain of tragedies.
Mancunians came together with our leaders, not just religious leaders drawn from the wide spectrum of faiths in Manchester but also civic leaders, such as the Lord Mayor, the Greater Manchester County Mayor, and national leaders such as The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, and the Speaker of the House of Commons. What mattered most was not the individuals themselves but their roles as representatives of our nation.
For the entire week, the sacred words that reverberated around Albert Square and were then repeated many times on television and radio were drawn not from a religious text but from the poem “This is the Place” by Tony Walsh, known as Longfella; words which reduced many who heard them to tears.
Manchester has been my home for 64 years, since I was less than two years old, and I have no memories of any other. Three of my close relatives were at the pop concert, though fortunately unharmed by the bomb. We Mancunians will get through this tragedy, together.
Violent Islamist extremists like the bomber hate to see Muslims living happily in Britain alongside non-Muslims. They would like nothing more than to see Britons turning on each other, culminating in Muslims being driven out of the UK. The way Manchester has come together after this tragedy is a key part of helping to defeat our enemies.
Mohammed Amin is Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. He is writing in a personal capacity.
On the evening of 29 May, I was one of the audience members for the recording of the BBC1 North West election hustings programme. While the audience was waiting to be led to the record studio, I started talking to a stranger about the above piece, and in particular the opening paragraph.
He explained how he had never properly recovered from the death of his own father. The conversation reinforced how important it is to grieve properly when someone dies.
I shared with him an exercise that Anthony Robbins used on a course I attended in 2003. This was to write a letter to one's deceased father or mother, telling them how you felt about them and your life since they died. I explained how powerful an experience I had found it, and suggested he do the same. He is an inactive Anglican, and I also suggested reading the Bible.
This interaction has reminded me of how many people can be touched and helped by what we write and what we say.
On 30 May I attended an event at Manchester Cathedral where civic and religious leaders pledged their determination to stand together against hatred. Both my Co-Chair, Heather Fletcher, and I signed the declaration on behalf of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester.
Honoured to join community, faith and civic leaders @ManCathedral to send out a strong, united message - #WeStandTogether pic.twitter.com/xFZ0dvbrNe— Mayor Andy Burnham (@MayorofGM) May 30, 2017
After leaving the Cathedral, I visited St Anne's Square in Manchester. This is where a sea flowers, cards and other tributes has accumulated. Amongst the most moving tributes were simple messages written in chalk by children, which left me on the edge of tears. This is also an important aspect of how we collectively mourn in modern Britain. I took no pictures, but have embedded someone else's tweet below:
The tributes in St Ann's are heartbreaking but so, incredibly beautiful #manchester #WeStandTogether pic.twitter.com/ZGbA1boOHC— Sarah Viggers (@sarahviggers_) May 31, 2017