Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Music, Love And Manchester...

I was fourteen years old when I went to my first, proper pop concert.  I had seen live music before that, but never a group I had truly hero-worshipped.  911 - a typical 90s boyband, for those of you too young to remember - were my world.  I can still vividly recall walking into Birmingham NEC, seeing thousands of excited fans, smelling snack foods and body spray, buying an overpriced tour programme, just to stare lovingly at Lee Brennan's face before the show started and he'd actually be there, on stage...  So much of that night is forever imprinted on my memory.  It not only strengthened my adoration of a band who put on one heck of a show, but it kickstarted my enormous love of live music, which endures to this day.

I went with my eleven year old sister.  She wasn't even much of a 911 fan, but she'd gone along, just the same.  Two young girls, on an exciting night out without their parents.  

Mum and Dad dropped us off at the venue and promised they'd be waiting for us at the end.  I can still remember the lights coming up, music still ringing in my ears, my face all hot and sweaty.  I was so excited to tell my parents all about it and to thank them for the tickets.

On Monday night, a similar scene would have unfolded for thousands of young pop music fans.  Saying goodbye to their parents, who'd be dutifully picking them up later.  Rushing to find their seats.  Screaming, singing and losing themselves completely in the unbridled joy that live music can bring.

It should have ended just like my first pop concert; with excited stories on the way home.  Kids unable to sleep, because the songs were still swirling through their heads.

By now, we all know that the unthinkable happened, instead.

More than twenty people - over half of them children - lost their lives when a cowardly terrorist detonated a bomb as the concert-goers were leaving the arena in Manchester, causing a blast that also left more than 50 people with serious injuries.

It's unbearable.

It's unbearable, because these were the most innocent people in society - children, teenagers, families sharing an exciting night out, together.  

It's unbearable, because music brings us so much joy, which is in stark contrast with the pain, suffering and anger so many families must be experiencing in the wake of such a tragedy.

It's unbearable, because yet again, the need to place blame has led to Islamophobia, fear-mongering and hate.

And you can't kill hate with more of it.

What this horrendous individual (I won't type his name here; he does not deserve that dignity) did on Monday was not a religious act.  What this sick, twisted little perpetrator did was an extreme act of terror.  And ISIS, who have taken responsibility for this cowardice, want us to be fearful and to spread hatred towards innocent Muslims as a result.  Why?  Because that is how they indoctrinate "soldiers" to their pathetic "cause."

"Look how hated you are by these infidels," they whisper into the ears of naive and often very young men and women.  "It's time to teach them a lesson."

Don't give them what they want.

Don't look at a minority of violent losers and allow them to represent the whole of Islam.  There are 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet and the vast majority of them are decent people.

Like the Muslim taxi drivers, who were offering free lifts home to stranded concert-goers on Monday night.

Like the Muslim doctors and nurses, working around the clock, trying to save the lives of innocent victims caught up in the blast.

Like the Muslim Mancunians, attending the vigil for the dead, missing and injured, yesterday.

Each of those people shares your anger.  Your hurt.  Your heartbreak.  But unlike you, they also too often face the brunt of it from others, purely because these sickening attacks are carried out in the name of "Islam."

The anger we all feel at what happened on Monday is justifiable.  The fear we might experience as the UK's terror threat level is increased to "critical" is understandable.  The demand that terror cells are weeded out and that those who threaten us are properly punished is understandable, too.  I want that.  Every Muslim I've spoken to online, since the tragedy in Manchester took place, wants it, too.

It's important to direct our feelings to the right places.  If every single one of the 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet was a violent murderous terrorist, I would almost certainly not be alive to write this blog, right now.  1.6 billion people is an extraordinary army.  But the fact is, only a very minimal percentage of those people have been indoctrinated into the kind of extremism that promotes terror.  Our justifiable anger - hate, even - must be directed to that minority.

But, as I said earlier, you don't kill hate with hate.

It's love that is proving that terrorism will never win.

It's the people opening their houses to let those who were stranded after the bombing, find a place to stay.

It's the people comforting one another in the streets.

It's the strangers, offering money for taxis, hotels or food.

It's the people taking bottles of water and food to hospitals, so that the parents whose children have been critically injured, don't have to leave their bedsides.

Yesterday, someone I follow on Twitter commented that we have to let life continue, because anything else is cowing to terrorism.  Almost immediately, he had racists telling him he was "an Islamist snowflake," or that he was "dismissing the memory of those killed."


By living, we cherish the memories of those lost.  

By playing the music they loved, by reminiscing over concerts we attended when we were young, we are celebrating the joy they felt, before their lives were so cruelly snuffed out.

By wrapping our arms around each other and supporting one another, we are showing that love is stronger than hate and always will be.  By refusing to smear innocent people, simply because they belong to a religion that has been taken and twisted to fit an extremist agenda, we show that we are better than the terrorists could ever hope to be.  And we show them that their ideals have no place in our world.  We condemn them not only with our words, but more importantly, with our actions and reactions.

Love will always outshine hate.  And it's fair to say that love and music have always been closely intertwined, in my life.  They always will be.  

And it's with love for those lost in my heart, that I will play my music a little louder, today.  Because terror can never take love away.

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