Every time I pick a coffee shop to sit in I do so without prejudice. I’m not overzealous about cappuccinos or mochas; I wouldn’t describe myself as an avid coffee drinker. Instead I go in and I order a breakfast tea (with two tea bags) and accept how quintessentially British the whole thing is. After work I popped into a coffee shop directly across from the train station and as I was placing my order I noticed the barista was particularly flustered, anxious almost. Nevertheless, I thought nothing of it – the entire country today is in a state of mourning; it’s a very sombre day.
I attributed her behaviour to nothing more than that. Two minutes later I hear her pick up the phone and speak quietly into it. Although her words were muffled I picked up that there was a shrill of hysteria in her voice. Not a moment later a girl emerged from the bathroom, small black case in tow, and headed out the shop only to be greeted by three police officers before she could reach the entrance. They politely asked her to open her case. The girl, whose religious beliefs I won’t claim to know, but I also won’t mention race, did so without hesitation or shame. And rightly so, as all she was carrying with her was her clarinet.
Without saying anything I finished my tea and left. Although I understand the state of high alert the country is in, I can’t help but question the barista’s reaction and, more importantly, what caused it. I accompany my friend to his train, big him farewell and begin my walk home. As I walked I noticed the city was changing, a bustling metropolis began to quieten to mournful-streets. I step across the wet ground and pass a vigil that’s in honour, and memory, of the tragedy that happened last night. I notice a cluster of people, all sporting the same look of despair, of disbelief, of heartache and of fear. As I walk past them I find myself noticing the different races this crowd is composed of. Normally when I see someone I don’t see race, or assume religion, I simply see – like all liberal people do – the person. Today though I’m almost hyper-aware of everyone’s ethnicity, particular the Muslim man who is being interview as I walk by, and his peers that stand behind him. This isn’t born from racism, but rather concern. Not for my wellbeing, or those around me, but for theirs. I’m not scared of them because they are Muslim, I’m scared for them because they are Muslim.
My timeline has been cluttered with scaremongering and hateful jargon all day; It’s literally a cesspool of Islamophobia and ignorance. All day I’ve read comments on articles or glanced over Tweets that say being ‘Muslim is synonymous with being a terrorist,’ or that all terrorists observe Islam and claim to be Muslim. Well, I could claim to be a grapefruit, would that make me a grapefruit? Answer: Only the ignorant associate terrorists with Islam. They break the rules of Islam. They do not speak for an entire religion. There is an easy way around this, go and find out about Islam, educate yourself; then no-one can fool you – not even yourself. Educate before you hate.
I know uttering platitudes of unity may be hard to swallow right now, especially when precious innocent lives have been snuffed out by individuals that hate our country, but communities must show solidarity. Peace is little more than a lifeless word if you let terror take over. The incident in the coffee shop is exactly the response terrorism wants us to display: Dissociated and unjustified panic. Mindless finger pointing. A radical witch-hunt. They want this division. They claim their acts are carried out with religious conviction, but I’ve yet to see a religion that is so deeply rooted in hate. I’ve never read the Koran, but I know Muslims, devout Muslims; ones who dedicate their life to their God and they do not have a single shred of hate in their body. The actions of a few do not speak for an entire race or religion – although it does seem enough to condemn them.
I can appreciate the fear that’s stormed over the country like a hateful black cloud, but you cannot go through each day thinking of your potential demise, just as you can’t go through your life being weary of someone purely because of their beliefs or skin colour. I have a genetically predestined morbidity, but even I know that I can’t be shackled to fear. The reason we are all feeling this so deeply is because it affects all of us on a personal level. We know people from social media who were at the concert, who are missing, STILL missing. We have friends with children who love Ariana; my flat mate is just back from seeing her in Dublin alongside our friend and her daughter – literally days before this atrocity. It hardly bares thinking about.
As much hate as I’ve seen today, I’ve also seen an equal amount of loving words and displays of the purist humanity. So far £551, 286 has been raised. Donations like that are a better use of your energy, rather than giving the loving Muslim family down the street hateful and unsure glances. Instead we need to focus on the unity that’s been displayed; the solidarity that’s been shared. The homes that have been opened to victims, the loving arms Manchester, as a city, has outstretched; the heartache we’ve displayed as a country – all its citizens, regardless of race. Focus on that. The sole purpose of terrorism is to spread terror; if you do that then they really win. Don’t let the country descend into a finger pointing frenzy. You know we’re better than that.