My family is from Manchester. I lived there, and I absolutely love it there. I am shocked and saddened by the attacks in Manchester, particularly aimed at young people.
My least favourite university assignment for Criminology was being asked to write an essay on the thoughts of the plane hijackers for 9/11. I remember having to do a reading where they imagined the thoughts of the hijackers, and how they were feeling – were they sweating? What were they thinking about? The thought of that really has stuck with me – I felt physically sick having to put myself into their shoes.
While I intensely disliked having to do the assignment, there is value in understanding what motivates people in an attempt to prevent it. Policing now has shifted to attempting to disrupt further attacks, and focusing on prevention activities in terms terrorism – a dramatic shift from proving a response to emergency that has already occurred.
For Manchester, I would like to talk about some facts about social cohesion following terror attacks in the hope that thinking about this information will somehow lead to more positive outcomes in the future, and help people deal with the threat of terror.
Here are some facts/food for thought:
The stress of a disaster can bring a community together – research shows that social cohesion is high directly following a disaster, and people are more likely to work together. This has been evident in Manchester, with the public vigils, outspoken world wide support resulting in the One Love Manchester Benefit Concert.
It would be terrific to see how social cohesion potentially could be harnessed long term.
In Norway, the repose to their terrorist attack in 2011 (77 people died and over 260 people injured) was to band together and reinforce positive social policies, and commit to openness and democracy. It is interesting to note that there were no changes to police powers or legislation in response to the terror attack.
In cases such as 9/11, social chosen was reportedly high in New York and the USA as a whole – however Joshua Miller argues that this has led to long term negative impact, with the attack used to justify the long War on Terror and led to a more divided political system.
Our brains spend more time processing negative events that positive ones, and it takes longer for the bad events to wear off. This is old conditioning to respond to immediate threats in the environment. This conditioning occurred prior to mass media, so are brains are not yet wired to withstand constant negative information. While we do not face any immediate threat from a war in a different country we still have a response to that threat in our safe environment, as our brains are simply not wired to receive loads of different intention, particularly negative information.
The risk of dying by terror attack is low.
So it is worth remembering when you read something as horrifying as the Manchester attacks, that there are still positives – the whole community has come out in force – vigil of thousands of people. That response means that the community will support each other in the aftermath of the attacks, and for every suicide bomber, there are millions of people actively against terrorism.
Manchester is also a city previously marked by terrorism. In 1996, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombed Manchester City via truck loaded with explosives. This bombing was the worst in England since World War II, and was intended to support the IRA’s campaign for an independent Ireland. The bombing has since been credited with rejuvenating Manchester City by requiring it to be rebuilt. It also led to peacetime within 2 years with the IRA (for a great article comparing the two bombings, click here).
However the tactics by the IRA were not intended to inflict casualties – a warning was phoned into authorities about an hour prior, enabling people to be evacuated. This is the opposite to the bombings at the Arena, targeted to inflict casualties aimed at young people.
Essentially, the best I can come up with in my musings for this article is that there may be a way to respond better, to reduce the likelihood of further attacks and unite a city in the face of terrorism by supporting community values. However, the methods being used are changing from a way to gain attention for a cause, to inflicting maximum casualties by young people, against young people. I certainly don’t have the answers, but would like to contribute to the conversation in the hope we can find a better way forward.