Manchester atrocity will bring residents of great city closer
Like everyone else, I was sickened and horrified by Monday's attack at the MEN Arena. I was a student at Manchester Metropolitan University and have lived in different parts including Fallowfield, Rusholme, Whalley Range and Didsbury over the years, and regularly return to visit all my family and friends that remain there.
It was clear something serious must have happened from early on, when at about 10.35pm on Monday so many of my Mancunian friends started to post alarming messages on Facebook. "Loud blasts heard around Victoria Station!" "City Centre has been locked down" "Police and ambulances everywhere", etc, followed by footage from mobile phones of sirens screeching along the streets from emergency vehicles going at full speed, or of panicked children flooding onto the streets screaming and in tears.
It's a sequence of events that has become depressingly familiar in the 21st century.
Within minutes of an incident, social media goes into overdrive, often hours before the news agencies release any concrete information.
But as one post after another went up, each more worrying than the last, it was clear that this was an atrocity on a terrible scale. By morning the full horror was all too clear. A suicide bomber at a pop concert; at least 22 dead, scores seriously injured and the world was reeling.
Why Manchester? Why would terrorists attack there of all places, one wonders.
Tragically, we are used to bustling capitals such as London, Paris, Brussels with all their embassies and palaces and world famous landmarks being the focus of terrible attacks. So why choose a place like Manchester?
I think I know why. The reason I love Manchester so much is probably the very reason these terrorists want to destroy it. And that is that Manchester is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.
Ethnically it is far more diverse than London, with around 155 languages being spoken by 500,000 residents hailing from every part of the globe.
It is a vibrant, colourful, triumphant success story of complete cultural diversity and an amazing, exciting, inspiring place to live.
On any one day, strolling through the streets of Manchester City Centre, it would be commonplace to see Hasidic Jews wearing their traditional long black coats, fur hats and long uncut beards, Sikhs in turbans, Rastafarians with their dreadlocks tucked into Ethiopian hats and Arabs in white thawb gowns; while being surrounded by the multi-faceted chatter of so many languages, accents and dialects.
Meanwhile, one of the most popular places to dine out in Manchester is the region of Rusholme, also known as the 'Curry Mile', which is a one mile stretch of main road lined with more than 100 Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan restaurants, sari houses, jewellers, sweet shops and exotic grocers all illuminated with neon lights and attracting thousands upon thousands of visitors of every ethnic origin every day.
Here, law-abiding peaceful Muslims live and work harmoniously and happily alongside Sikhs, Hindus and all their fellow Mancunians. This harmony, this ability for so many assorted cultures to coexist is the very antithesis of the Islamic State extremists who despise diversity and live only to destroy our society and our sense of unity.
But one thing is for sure. They'll never achieve anything with the people of Manchester. We're tough, we're plain speaking and we won't be repressed by anyone.
This atrocity won't divide the people of Manchester; if anything it will bring them closer together in rooting out the murderers and restoring the eclectic unity our city is famous for.