He slaugh­tered in­no­cent girls daz­zled by their pop idol. Our hearts break

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Al­li­son Pear­son

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.

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