The Manchester bombing and the battle for peace
It’s hard to speak the truth when grief and anger are at their peak, writes Mari Marcel Thekaekara.
Mancunians hold a special place in our hearts. ‘Just Change tea’, from the adivasis of Gudalur, South India, has been on the shelves of a shop called Unicorn in Chorlton for over a decade. People are friendlier, more smiley. But it's the Mancunian spirit which captures your heart.
I wasn't surprised when I read that posh Manchester hotels offered free beds to the families of people affected by the bombing. Or that ordinary people opened their homes to strangers and taxi drivers offered free rides to people in need of help. The sight of children marching brought tears to many eyes, resurrecting images of eight-year-old Saffie Roussos, the youngest child to die that night. But Manchester marched and sang and refused to be cowed. It's the Mancunian way.
Mumbai showed pretty much the same spirit in 2011 when the bombers hit. The Mumbaikar is India's version of Britain's Mancunian. But that's another story.
The bombers and terrorists are cowardly, despicable, hateful people. There's no excuse for killing innocent people. But I agree with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that foreign policy – such as when his predecessor Tony Blair led Britain into the now proven, unjustifiable bombing of Iraq – has ignited a wave of hatred and a desire for revenge that is going to take an army of peace-keepers to overcome. It isn’t the wisest thing for a politician to say publicly, particularly when the entire country is raw and wounded. When grief and anger are at their peak, on the eve of an election.
Yet Corbyn is more truthful than any other politician I have read about. He seems to place truth and soul searching before winning.
I heard stories about young Muslim boys whose mothers and sisters had been raped and killed in a genocide in Gujarat, western India in 2002. Hundreds of these young boys were whisked away to Pakistan to be trained as terrorists. They were perfect jihadist material with anger and hatred in their hearts for what they had witnessed. Those boys must have been seething with anger and grief, feeling frustrated, impotent and totally helpless to avenge the evil that had been inflicted on their mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins.
But as I write this, my appeal is not to look back and point fingers. I recently had a conversation with a wise friend – Richard Zipfel, who has worked for social justice all his life, for more than 40 years.. He pointed out that when the US armed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to fight the Russians, it was foreign policy which might have seemed the best option at the time. Bombing Iraq might have had more to do with the billions that arms dealers made. The men who made those decisions did not think of the young soldiers, British or American, who came back in body bags. Whatever.
I think now, more than ever, we need to look at creating links all over the world to fight terror differently. ‘Bombing the hell out of 'em’ might sound like sweet revenge to many more people than we imagine. We need to create a world peace brigade where leaders of all religions join together, putting differences aside, putting politics aside and forging ahead to stop the bombings and the hate.
We need a new slogan. 'Stop Hate. Make peace'.
Does this sound trite, I wonder? But coming from India where hatred is being ignited, provoked and
actively encouraged, I worry on a daily basis about what my country will look like a decade from now. Being surrounded by hatred and by armies of Nazi-like goons is frightening no matter where you live on this planet. There was a 1970s poster, which went something like – 'If there must be war let it be in my lifetime so that the children can live in peace.'
But today we need to fight for peace. It's a battle that's as important as saving the planet from climate change. This battle for peace needs to begin right away.