As the sun rose in the UK this morning and the reality began to dawn about what had happened in Manchester last night, social media was ablaze with the wholly predictable responses to what appears to be an unfathomably heinous terror attack on an arena full of young people.
Social media has proven itself to be a hugely useful tool in the response to such events. It enables the police to disseminate information quickly and effectively. Families and friends of potential victims can appeal for information at the click of a mouse and appeals for blood donations can be circulated to a wide audience.
That said, there are limits. Before the police had even confirmed the nature of the incident, there came spurious retweets of images from a long-passed emergency services drill, American Trump supporters tweeting premature hypotheses on the cause of the blast with feigned intellectual authority.
A strange polarisation also tends to set in with breathtaking speed in the aftermath of tragedies such as this. On the one hand, there are those who take to their keyboards to send their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims’ families; as news began to break last night, some of them looked to Tommy Robinson, Katie Hopkins and various US alt-right sympathisers for sharable sound bites in the “I told you so” vein.
Conversely, there are the ever-virtuous social justice warriors, many of whom warn (not unreasonably) of mass blocking/muting of anyone espousing “Islamophobia”. A cursory glance down the profiles of some such users confirms a total lack of expression of sorrow for the entirely innocent victims of attacks such as the one that befell the thousands of mostly young people attending the Ariana Grande concert last night.
The truth is we should by now have learned to presume nothing in such circumstances. When reports began to emerge of a car ploughing into pedestrians in New York’s Times Square last week, Facebook and Twitter imploded with anticipatory declarations of anti-Muslim sentiment. The suspected perpetrator transpired to be a retired US army veteran who had been arrested for driving under the influence previously, which put an end to such assumptions.
Conclusions are being jumped to with incredible ease as to the nature of and motivation behind the Manchester incident, by people the length and breadth of the political spectrum. There is a middle ground that can – and must – be trodden in our response to acts of cowardly evil such as this. Those clamouring to precipitously pontificate on the possible motivations of last night’s attacker are already offering their critiques of the UK’s foreign policy. As problematic as the British government’s repeated intervention in Middle East conflicts may be, Manchester’s dead and injured cannot be held responsible and now is not the time while scores of children remain unaccounted for and the dust has yet to settle.
Similarly, there will be countless opportunities the weigh up the potential impact of the attack on Britain’s Muslim community as details emerge. Right now, all of our collective energy must be devoted to identifying the whereabouts of the missing, supporting the call for blood donations and rallying around the city of Manchester in this dark hour.
This is not an “either/or” situation. This is not an opportunity for the well-meaning to win medals in the social justice Olympics, nor for the anger of millions to metamorphose into hatred towards an entire religious group. To engage in either is self-indulgent, counterproductive and, frankly, helps no one.
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