Amid the flood of heartwarming tributes and condolences that have followed Monday’s horrific attack in Manchester, England, one response stands out. On Tuesday, editor and author James Palmer published a piece in Foreign Policy titled, “I Love Manchester, But Please Stop Celebrating My Hometown.”
In the open-letter-style piece, Palmer, who was born in Manchester, argues that the outpouring of “claims about Manchester’s uniqueness” only contributes to “a predictable and dangerous sentimentality” that has come to characterize how modern Westerners respond to terror attacks.
“It’s not a particularly amazing city or a huge symbolic target,” he writes, “It’s just an ordinary city that was probably chosen for small, ordinary, horrible reasons.”
Of course Mancunians opened their homes and brought out free sandwiches and hurried into emergency rooms to save lives, and God bless every one of them. But they did that because they’re people, not because they were Mancunians. The vast majority of the time, disaster brings out the best in people, wherever and whomever they are.
He notes that while it is true that terrorists have previously targeted places of clear symbolic value, such as the World Trade Center and the offices of Charlie Hebdo, these attackers also carry a deep-seated antipathy toward average people and places for the simple reason that they are evil. In other words, it’s important to acknowledge that this wasn’t an attack on some great city or political movement — it was an attack on innocent men, women, and children attending a pop concert in a considerably average city. It was an attack on Western civilization as we know it.
Palmer goes on to criticize the ways in which Western media and politicians often capitalize on terror attacks and “feed dangerously off tragedy.”
“There’s something obscene about our lust for sentimental suffering, in which the awful, meaningless deaths of children will become the fodder of tear-jerking tabloid pages,” he writes. “The cheap emotion of it distracts us from the hard work of real compassion, the daily grind of kindness.”
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Rather than celebrate Manchester and its citizens in the wake of Monday’s bombing, Palmer suggests that we view the fatal attack as a human problem that would have been just as horrific had it happened anywhere else. Likewise, the heroic responses of Mancunians following the bombing would have been just as noble had they taken place somewhere other than Manchester.
“Manchester is a good, ordinary city where something awful has happened,” he concludes. “It’s full of decent people who will cope with shock, horror, and loss in the same ways people do every day, everywhere. It doesn’t need to be anything more.”
Whether Palmer intended to make this point or not, his observations speak to the broader, ongoing drama between good and evil (or, as he puts it, “the daily grind of kindness”) at play in society. It is tempting to isolate a problem by giving it a name and location, but in doing so, we often fail to view evil as a constant adversary of all things good, true, and beautiful.
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