Belfast Telegraph

Manchester attack: Real freedom fighting is united response of decent people against murder of innocents

 

Lindy McDowell

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter... How often have we heard that idiotic old trope trotted out here in recent years?

As the darkest days of the Troubles have receded into history and a generation has come of age with very little, or no memory at all, of the barbarity that was once a daily occurrence here, that cliché has become the great, glib get-out clause for those who perpetuated foul murder.

We know there are plenty who would argue that the bomber who wreaked such savagery upon the innocent youth of Manchester was also "freedom fighting".

The nature of the "freedom" the bombers seek is debatable. The "fighting" is just cold-blooded carnage. Butchering children as young as eight at a concert doesn't require courage. Just hatred. Great, unfathomable, twisted hatred. And the demented bonus belief that this buys you a ticket to paradise.

Terrorists are called terrorists because (the clue's in the name) they deliberately employ terror as a weapon. The fact that so many of their Manchester victims were young and defenceless and female would be all the better in the warped thinking of the terror overlords.

The barbarous nature of the attack, the gruesome aftermath. Those hideous scenes and the pitiful testimony of eyewitnesses. That is the terrorists' stock in trade. That is their armoury.

The bomb in Manchester is believed to have been augmented by nails and ball bearings exploding into a maelstrom of killer shrapnel. The same mechanism, of course, was used here - indeed perfected, if that's the right word - by our own murdering "freedom fighters".

How appallingly familiar then, those reports of what happened this week in that English city, have sounded to so many of us.

As the horror unfolded in Manchester, television programmes in the area were interrupted with news flashes and information about helpline numbers for those unable to contact missing family members.

Remember when that was an almost nightly occurrence here?

Remember that familiar old stomach grip of dread? The next day's news round-up (the "overnight" as we called it with some understatement in the newspaper trade) would chart what had happened, where.

The victims, the murdered, the maimed, the distraught families.

La Mon, the Rose and Crown, McGurk's Bar, the Droppin' Well, Enniskillen, Omagh.

And always amid the statistics and the condemnation and the calls for redoubling of our efforts to find those responsible... the bleak, burgeoning chronicle of lives destroyed, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who would never come home.

But still - one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, eh? The aim of the terrorist is to break the spirit of the civilian population. Civilian deaths weren't unfortunate collateral damage as the terror chiefs and their apologists have latterly feigned to claim here.

Civilian deaths were the whole point. We were always aware of that back then. Fear wasn't just something that occasionally flitted like a dark cloud across the landscape of our youth. We were immersed in it. Fear was our normality. It stalked us into adulthood. Our working lives. The utter obscenity of what we called the Troubles is always summed up for me by the day they buried most of the Omagh dead. Reporting for this paper, I covered three of the funerals.

I am haunted forever by the sheer scale of it (something that Manchester also faces now), in this instance played out in the winding, bucolic backroads of Co Tyrone on a heartrendingly heavenly August day.

I remember time and again having to pull my car into the hedgerow to allow rivers of mourners to pass.

Car after car after car after car.

Heading to this funeral here, or that one there. Good neighbours trying, impossibly, to attend several in one day.

Hundreds, thousands of people processing this way and that in weeping columns of quiet misery. Every single one of them dressed in black. And the sun was still shining, and the birds still singing with what felt like profane indifference to such profound human sorrow.

The Troubles were our normality. For such a large part of our lives nowhere was safe anymore. The parents of Manchester will be gripped by that today in the same way that our own parents once were.

But this is not the first time the terrorists have come to that city. Back in June 1996 after the breakdown of the first IRA ceasefire, Manchester city centre had been the target of a monster explosive device three times the size of the Provo bomb that claimed the lives of two innocent men at Canary Wharf.

There were around 80,000 people in the city centre that day. Over 200 were grievously injured. That the toll was not horrifically worse was down to the superlative heroism, composure and efficiency of members of the emergency services.

Their heirs were the heroes of this week's attack. The police officers and paramedics and emergency workers who stepped beyond human emotion and did superhuman things.

And the bystanders. The adults at the concert who rounded up distressed young teenagers and shepherded them to safety and protected them until their parents, out of their wits with worry, were able to come for them.

The local householders who threw open their doors to strangers, the taxi drivers who ferried terrified children home.

The terrorists who struck in Manchester believe that terror as a weapon will somehow cow a civilian population. They used to believe that here as well (some still do), but most have come to realise that actually the reverse is true.

For there is something magnificent in the human spirit that refuses to be broken. Amid the scenes we've witnessed this week - and the similar savagery we saw here - the real nobility, the real freedom fighting we recognise is in the united response of decent people against the indiscriminate murder of innocents.

Eight-year-old Saffie- cruelly blown to pieces as she excitedly watched her pop singer heroine at a concert - that is all our little girl.

And one man's terrorist is everybody's terrorist.

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