He slaughtered innocent girls dazzled by their pop idol. Our hearts break
How many times did I take an excited little girl to a concert to see her favourite pop star? I look at the photos on my phone and the memories come flooding back. Kelly Clarkson, Justin Bieber and – O frabjous day! – One Direction.
It’s a ritual enacted in every corner of the country, a tweenage rite of passage. The precious concert ticket purchased months in advance, for a birthday or for Christmas, and handled like a holy relic. The date circled in the diary. The days impatiently counted down. The pocket money saved for merchandise and posters, the top purchased for the occasion, because she wants to look her best, the bomber jacket worn over it, a sophisticated touch. The excitement reaching fever pitch as you get to the venue for, make no mistake, this is the biggest night of your daughter’s young life.
That is what it was like at Manchester Arena on Monday evening. Thousands of parents escorted eager children to the door or went inside with them to enjoy the show. There were older teenagers, too, with a gaggle of giggly mates, insanely thrilled to be there and trying out their grown-up selves for size.
Girls who worshipped Ariana Grande, a pop princess morphed from squeaky-clean Nickelodeon star to daring diva. Girls who knew all the words to her hit, Dangerous Woman, ready to sing along. Girls like Saffie Rose Roussos, just eight years old. Girls like Georgina Callander, 18, who had actually met her idol two years previously at the same venue and posted a picture of them together.
The airbrushed-perfect Ariana has her arm around the beaming Lancashire schoolgirl with her tortoiseshell specs and braces. “The most amazing thing to happen in the entire world!” Gina told friends on Facebook. “She was so cool lovely. I hugged her so tight and she said she loved my bow. I can’t get over this. I never will.”
Think of the innocence of that remark, think of that sweet girl’s overwhelming happiness. Think now of Gina on Monday night, dying from her injuries in a hospital bed, her mother beside her. And of Saffie Rose who didn’t live to see her ninth birthday. Just two of the 22 killed and 59 injured by some Islamist maniac.
‘Somewhere in the midst of all that pleasure and elation and closeness, he was priming himself, hatred incarnate’
Think of Gina and Saffie Rose without weeping, if you can. I can’t.
They say the carnage after the latest terrorist attack was unimaginable. But that’s not true, is it? For anyone who has ever taken a child to a concert, for anyone who has ever been at a concert, it is horribly easy to imagine.
I cast my mind back to an 11th or 12th birthday, waiting in the stale foyer of some arena with all the other parents, thinking what a dump this is, only for a row of swing-doors to be flung open as the ecstatic throng came shrieking out. Higher than a flock of starlings, clutching their mementoes, flinging themselves into mum or dad’s arms, never gladder to be alive than at that giddy moment.
And it was right then, in Manchester, that he struck. The mum holding her daughter tightly by the hand, so she doesn’t lose her in the throng. The dads, sent to pick up, relieved to spot their child’s shining face in the crowd. Amazing evening, but it’s time to go home now, love. And somewhere in the midst of all that pleasure and elation and closeness, he was priming himself, hatred incarnate, waiting until he detonated the bomb and took as many of them with him as possible.
Our minds can barely comprehend such evil. Our hearts break at the thought of all the love and hope and sacrifice that brought those families to that stadium and of the anguish that will ripple out in waves of shock from the epicentre of the blast, into homes and schools and communities, on and on for years to come. Siblings lost, grandchildren unborn, families maimed, birthdays a graveyard of loss, trauma without end.
Even before their bodies were cold, the great and the good were crowding on to the airwaves to murmur their self-soothing mantras about hope being better than fear, strong, vibrant communities, keep calm and carry on, business as usual.
How dare they. They insult the dead who deserve their country to be outraged and anguished on their behalf. Why should we be calm when our children are considered a legitimate target for mass murder?
The Government, which will have the backing of the majority of Britons, needs to channel justifiable public anger into drastic action. That means
ignoring the Liberal Democrats and their pious ilk who opposed antiterror control orders. If, as seems to be the dire case, there are more than 1,000 Muslim men (and, God help us, women) who are of interest to the security services then the safety of the public must have a higher priority than the civil liberties of suspected terrorists.
The French government, which came under heavy criticism after the Bataclan massacre, made it perfectly clear that it didn’t want any French jihadists returning from Syria, whatever that took. The British Government should take the same hardline approach.
We don’t want those vile people in this country.
Politicians must also pluck up courage to tackle the alarming apartheid in our midst.
Most Muslims are decent, lawabiding people, but they need to have a bigger stake in the nation in which they live.
Integration is the best inoculation against the virus of extremism. The Muslim Council of Britain spoke out yesterday against the Manchester attack, saying: “This is horrific, this is criminal. May the perpetrators face the full weight of justice both in this life and the next.”
Amen to that.
But let that message go out loud and clear to every single mosque and Islamic school.
To those who cry that any of the measures above would risk undermining the British way of life, I say, “Would you rather someone’s eight-year-old daughter was in a body bag?”
Besides, the British way of life is already undermined. My own daughter texted me yesterday saying that she was desperately sad that, for thousands of girls, going to see their pop idol in concert would now be “a tainted and frightening thing”.
Innocence was murdered in Manchester on Monday night.
“I can’t get over this. I never will,” Georgina Callander posted when she met Ariana Grande. For very different reasons, neither will we.