In the first of a series of articles on the Manchester Arena bombing of 22nd May 2017 we consider the implications of the motives behind the atrocity.
A couple of days ago, my son returned from a trip to Manchester. He and his mates had travelled from Northern Ireland to see the famous Manchester United football team play Crystal Palace.
The Red Devils beat The Eagles by two goals to nil.
My son and his friends had ‘a whale of a time’ as we say, and when he came home I truly felt a sense of relief. You see, while he was away it had occurred to me that a high profile football match like the one my son attended, with thousands of innocent fans densely-packed into the Old Trafford stadium, would be a perfect target for this new breed of vicious terrorist – and such an attack would reverberate around the globe giving publicity to the cause and bringing succour and encouragement to the many thousands of evil people that hate the United Kingdom and its citizens.
We could not stand to lose yet another child.
It was a fleeting thought, but it was one that left me cold.
We in Northern Ireland are no strangers to terrorism. For 32 years, the Irish Republican Army in its various forms brought terror to the streets and people of Northern Ireland.
Throughout The Troubles, literally thousands of bombs were exploded devastating families and property alike – the result of these heinous and cowardly actions reverberating to this day.
But The Troubles weren’t the sole preserve of Northern Ireland. Any place that the Republican movement identified British presence became a “legitimate target.”
And so it was that on a hot, sunny Saturday morning in 1996, with crowds of shoppers going about their normal Saturday business, a large white and red Ford Cargo lorry moved innocuously along Manchester City Centre’s Corporation Street in and came to a stop outside a Marks & Spencer store.
It was 9.20: 1 hour 57 minutes remaining.
After setting the hazard indicators flashing, two men wearing hooded jackets, baseball caps and sunglasses stepped out of the vehicle and walked away.
In due course, the lorry attracted the attention of a traffic warden who promptly issued a fixed penalty notice for parking on double-yellow lines and placed the parking ticket on the lorry windscreen.
It was now 9.23.
Then at 9.38, a man with an Irish accent began making telephone calls to several organisations which included a TV studio, a hospital and the Garda ( police ) headquarters in Dublin alerting them all to the presence of the truck and giving the precise location of its deadly cargo .
Then began one of the most remarkable operations ever undertaken by security forces – the evacuation of over 80,000 shoppers from a city centre on a busy shopping day. It is recorded that many, upon hearing of the ‘bomb scare’ were reluctant to leave the area, such was their hardiness, but by 11.10 the place was completely deserted; apart, that is, from a little tracked robot which trundled its way slowly towards the truck.
At 11.16 the bomb disposal robot remotely carried out a controlled explosion in an effort to defuse the device.
At 11.17 precisely 3,500lbs ( 1600kg ) of home-made explosive detonated in the truck, obliterating the robot and causing £1.2b ( $1.56b ) in today’s money, of damage to Manchester City Centre.
Remarkably there were no direct deaths. There were injuries, mainly from flying glass and debris, but no-one was killed on that day.
This morning I sat and considered this.
What if that attack had been in the control of today’s Muslim extremists, I wondered, instead of Irish terrorists? Two things I felt were certain: there would have been NO warning and there would have been mass slaughter, perhaps as great as or exceeding that of 11th September 2001.
Of course in its time the IRA did carry out some of the most appalling atrocities ( LaMon, Abercorn, Bloody Friday, Hyde Park, Canary Wharf… ). And yet on June 15th, 1996 they phoned in a warning to several organisations that allowed the mass evacuation and which prevented mass slaughter. Their target was economic – the heart of Manchester city centre ; the shops and businesses.
Not human beings. It is an important distinction.
Last night’s suicide attack at Manchester Arena was different because it was aimed precisely at humans – an attack designed to slaughter as many innocents as possible. It made no difference that children were caught up in the blast – more likely from these terrorists’ point of view, the more children killed the better because that would have burned their hateful cause into the national consciousness like nothing else.
Ironically then, I think that the attack at the Manchester Arena was considerably more devastating and apalling than the terrorist attack of 1996 because of precisely that realisation.
And I also considered this: that even apparently with terrorism something in this world has changed and changed for worse.
It is as if the last shreds of respect for human life have now been blown away and every living being is now fair game.
We saw it building in how the Nazi regards the Jew. We witnessed it in Oklahoma City on April 19th, 1995 and we even now can see first hand how elitest governments expose the disabled and the vulnerable to systemic and authoritarian abuse.
And now we witness the depraved barbarity that is modern terrorism.
I suspect that the source of this change is to be found not in the material world but in the spiritual world – a world in which spiritual evil reigns supreme.
There are acts of barbarism now taking place regularly in the public arena ( thanks to the Internet ), that would have been unthinkable just 30 years ago.
And yet, I recall when I was younger, reading the following Scriptures and wondering what it all meant:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
To me, that Scripture from Ephesians 6, written thousands of years ago, gives me pause for thought in 2017. And I fear that with the rise of Islamic extremism, we are witnessing one facet of what Apostle Paul termed “principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
And I’m beginning to think that we may have seen nothing yet!
Today we have been forcibly introduced to the concept of the modern-day martyr. Now it should be understood that in Islamic practice, a martyr is one that is killed in jihad and according to that practice he or she is entitled to special status in paradise and on Judgment Day.
A 2006 article by David Bukay for Middle East Forum has these chilling words: “By their ( the Islamic suicide-killers’ ) sacrifice, they obtain all the pleasures of paradise, be they spiritual – the close presence of God – or material. As an additional incentive, Muhammad promised those mujahideen who fight in a jihad war a reward of virgins in paradise.
Importantly, those conducting suicide bombings do not consider themselves dead but rather living with God. As sura 2:154 explains, ‘Do not think that those who are killed in the way of Allah are dead, for indeed they are alive, even though you are not aware.’
Therefore the prohibition on suicide need not apply to bus bombers or other kamikaze jihadists.
Martin Lings, a British scholar of Sufism, argues that this linkage between martyrdom and paradise was probably the most potent factor that Muhammad brought to the annals of warfare, for it transformed the odds of war by offering a promise of immortality.”¹
Personally, the thought that someone, anyone, being gifted an eternity of unrestrained pleasure for murdering another human being in such barbaric ways turns my stomach. It is as hideous as it is preposterous.
It makes no sense whatsoever.
And even the very thought that God: my God; the Holy, loving, Just God that I believe in and who is the foundation of my Christian faith, personally rewards these monsters for committing their evil deeds by permitting them to enter into His presence, is completely inconceivable.
Consider further the following verses of scripture:
“And there shall in no way enter into it (Heaven) anything that defiles, neither whatsoever works abomination, or makes a lie: but they who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Revelation 21:27.
“For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with You.” Psalm 5:4.
The time is coming , and probably is already here when people can no longer sit on the fence in regard to this matter: Ultimately either God is behind what happened in Manchester last evening ( and all the other atrocities we have witnessed ) or He is exactly what the Holy Bible clearly tells us He is: a loving, Holy and righteous God that cannot have evil in His presence and that even sent his own Son, no less, to be the propitiation for sin itself.
We can’t have it both ways.
So either Salman Abedi, the Manchester Arena suicide bomber, is doing God’s work or he is an agent of Satan .
I know what I believe and as the world is dragged inexorably towards Armageddon, we would all do well to listen to what the Holy Bible is telling us.
Our very lives may depend upon it.
2. I make the distinction here by judging the bomber by his actions. I do not in any way associate Islam itself with Satan.