Since the terror attack at Manchester Arena, which claimed 22 lives, a striking feature of the reaction in the city and the wider north west region has been the determination of the majority of people to maintain unity in the community and avoid responding to hate with hate.
In Manchester, local faith leaders have been working closely with the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and Greater Manchester Police, to prevent hate crime. Just as most Mancunians did not blame the Irish community for the IRA bomb 21 years ago (though a minority did), most are able to distinguish between fanatics who carry out nihilistic acts of terror, and the Muslim community they wrongly claim to represent.
In this regard, the Anglican Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, and the Catholic Bishop of Salford, John Arnold, have played key roles by working with Muslim leaders, as well as local rabbis and other faith leaders.
Parents and children march
In order to demonstrate their abhorrence of the terror attack, hundreds of parents and children from north Manchester Jamia Mosque in Cheetham Hill marched to the Manchester Arena to lay flowers and say prayers for the victims. They carried banners proclaiming love for Manchester.
Meanwhile, thousands of young people paid at least £50 each to help victims’ families by getting tattoos of bees, the symbol of Manchester, reflecting its industrial heritage, with tattoo artists giving their time free of charge.
In Liverpool, solidarity with the larger neighbour was reflected in a rally I attended in support of victims, which drew together Muslims, Christians and Jews. Held at Lodge Lane, a very multi-ethnic area, it was organised by Munir Ahmed, a local teacher, and addressed by several local councillors, who stressed the theme of unity, and by many from the Muslim community, who called on co-religionists to redouble efforts to combat radicalisation and extremism.
Adam Kelwick, a white British Muslim chaplain, who is involved with a number of charities, described how so-called Islamic State had attacked a children’s hospital in Mosul which he had visited and raised funds for.
The gathering was also addressed by two Christian clergy, Fr Peter Morgan from the local Catholic parish and Rev Crispin Pailing from the Church of England, as well as local MP Louise Ellman, a member of the Jewish community.
Successful integration model
My own neighbourhood of Kensington and Fairfield has been a remarkably successful model of integration of people of varied ethnic and faith backgrounds. In the past 20 years, it has gone from being 95 per cent white to having one-in-four from an ethnic minority background, without any major ethnic tensions.
On the contrary, you constantly see children of all backgrounds mixing on the way home from school. In addition to a large African community, the neighbourhood has a significant Indian population, with the Hindu temple located nearby. Many from both communities work in the Royal Liverpool Hospital.
While it has hardly been surprising that such a horrific incident has raised tensions, the remarkable feature is how the main focus in the north west has been on maintaining unity while supporting the victims.