Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Twenty-one Years

Updated 5/25

Photo by Manchester Evening News, June 1996.

Just 21 years ago, on June 15 1996, the city of Manchester (which has, like most big cities in the north of England, a very large Irish Catholic population) was rocked by the explosion of an enormous bomb, 1500 kg and the largest bomb ever detonated in Great Britain in peacetime, in a truck parked on Corporation Street. The perpetrators, the Provisional IRA, had sent a warning an hour and a half in advance, allowing the police to evacuate some 75,000 people from the area, and nobody was killed, but 212 people were injured, and you can imagine the chaos and distress in the city as friends and parents and lovers tried to assure themselves of each others' safety, and emergency medical workers sought out the victims—it's a whole story that they were confused by mannequins lying in the street after the blast blew them out of their shopwindows.

In the horrible business of deciding which terrorist attacks are worse than others, you'd have to say this bombing wasn't nearly as bad as last night's attack on the Ariana Grande concert audience at the Manchester Arena, which gave no warnings, aimed specifically at an event where most of the participants were children, and has killed at least 22 people, but it was horrible all the same.

In the whole of that last-gasp campaign of 1996-97, the Provos killed a total of seven people in England, including two civilians in the February 1996 London bombing at Canary Wharf. Their purpose, which seems just insane, was to protest the fact that the "all-party conference" that had just begun negotiating a Northern Ireland peace agreement in Stormont was excluding one of the parties, Sinn Féin, the party with which the IRA identified. "Let our people into the peace talks or we'll kill you." It didn't work. What worked in the end was the Sinn Féin leadership persuading the IRA to announce another cease-fire and stick to it, and now of course there are four MPs from Sinn Féin in the Westminster Parliament (though they aren't exactly influential there, since their entire policy in London consists of "abstentionism") and the party holds 27 of the 90 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Troubles are over, though the Irritations may remain.

Which brings me to the point I wanted to make. There were all sorts of responses to the 1996 Manchester bombings, selfless and self-serving, violent (hardly any, actually; just ten Protestant hooligans trashed a Manchester Irish bar) and peaceful, smart and stupid, and subtle mixtures among all these, but two sets of people who were unambiguously wrong: the Provos who did the bombing themselves, and risked killing innocent people to "send a message" (and their supporters like terror-sympathizer Long Island Republican representative Peter King, now a prominent Islamophobe, I can't forgo mentioning him); and the hardline Unionists who saw proof in the bombing that the Sinn Féin, or the Sinn Féin sympathizers, or the entire Irish Catholic population of Manchester, or of Northern Ireland, was intrinsically unfit for civilized self-government, murderous by nature, bad hombres.

Now that the self-denominated Islamic State has claimed "responsibility" (I can never get over the way the newspapers use that word) for last night's pointless massacre, it's a good time to note that 21 years from now, English Christians and Jews and Muslims and the religion-free will be interacting on a daily basis, sometimes with affection and sometimes with hostility, much as they do today and hopefully more, but the forces of exclusion, Islamist and Christianist, will be weaker and less relevant than ever. Other than for the unneeded sadness it has given the world,  the bombing will have had no significance at all.

Update 5/25/2017: Just noticed Professor Cole took up the same angle (1996 vs. 2017) with the kind of historical depth only he can provide. He even used the same picture!

No comments:

Post a Comment