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Connected by terror and unity

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Wikipedia Commons

Ariana Grande

Three months ago, February 4: I’m inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena, my seat on floor 6, row DD. I am alone because none of my friends like this artist enough to go with me. I am surrounded by strangers, all of us here for one purpose: to attend a concert on Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Women Tour.

From the moment she takes the stage, I am no longer alone. I am connected with her. From the moment she starts performing, her stories become mine. I am connected to the people around me. We scream together, dance together, sing together. The energy is electric, and makes you feel anything is possible. For those two hours, I am free from the pressure of school and the drama at home, free from fear. At the end, after Ariana sings her last song, I am bittersweet to return to reality.

What the concertgoers experienced at Manchester Arena on May 22 was the harsh reality of the dark world we live in.  

I was shocked when a friend sent me a direct message on Twitter around 3 p.m., while I was at the gym, telling me there was a gunshot at the 21,000–seat Manchester Arena. Less than an hour later, I read that it was an explosion, Ariana was okay, but there were fatalities. By nightfall, details had swirled in that the bomber was killed after detonating a homemade explosive in the arena’s entrance hall. The police told the Washington Post that 59 people were injured, a dozen of them under 16. There were 22 fatalities, an 8-year-old girl the youngest.

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I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Even with all of the violent, incomprehensible tragedies of the past few years, the Sandy Hook shooting, the Boston Marathon bomber, and the The Dark Knight Rises shooting in Aurora, Colorado, each time something like this happens, it still feels like all the hope is sucked out of the world. A concert is supposed to let people escape from the bullshit of the world — the dying children, the homeless veterans, the greedy, soulless dictators — and celebrate being alive, being human, and being connected.

What makes it particularly difficult for me to swallow is remembering the kids who attended her show in Vegas. I remember seeing a little girl who couldn’t be older than 7, wearing cat ears and Ariana on her T-shirt, eagerly clutching her mother’s hand as we waited to go in.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said, “This attack stands out for its appalling, sickening cowardice deliberately targeting innocent, defenseless children and young people who should have been enjoying one of the most memorable nights of their lives.”

When something like this happens, we look for an explanation. Billboard published an essay about why ISIS would target an Ariana Grande concert, pointing out that her feminist stance and sexual confidence goes against the Islamic State’s misogynist views regarding female virtue. Add that to their hatred of Western pop culture, and you can see why she might be a target.

While the 22-year-old suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was identified, this isn’t over. Police believe there was network of terror working together, and there have already been a half-dozen arrests, according to the New York Times. The Islamic State is taking credit for the incident, but as of press time that has yet to be confirmed. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Costs told the Washington Post, “They claim responsibility for virtually every attack.”

In a connected world, terrorism is a global problem. On May 22, 8 News NOW reported a story about the Las Vegas Strip being shown in an ISIS propaganda video for the second time in the last year. In the broadcast, Dave Shepherd, a retired FBI agent, said, “Las Vegas has kind of been a terrorism target for a long time.”

That’s not surprising. Vegas has concerts, conventions, and other events every week that draw in large crowds of tourists. In the summer of 2016 after the first propaganda video popped up, my mom wanted me to quit my job at The Linq; she was afraid there would be a terrorist attack on the Strip. I told her she was crazy and worked there until the end of the summer. 

Because Las Vegas is always a possible terrorist’s target, safety measures are taken. When I attended Ariana’s concert back in February, I had to walk through metal detectors to get into the arena, and I gladly opened up my purse to show security that the only thing inside was a wallet, a water bottle, some loose change, lipsticks, and wrappers. In Manchester, fans told the press that there weren’t any metal detectors set up. Security just checked bags before fans were allowed to enter Manchester Arena. Along with the death toll, and the social chaos, an incident like this underlines a major question of the 21st century: How much of our privacy are we willing to give up for the sake of security?

Ariana has suspended her tour through June 5. After the incident, she tweeted, “From the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry.  i don’t have words.”

Last Monday, we witnessed some of the worst of human kind has to offer. But we also witnessed some of the best, such as the people who used Twitter to help families find their missing loved ones, the Muslim taxi drivers who offered free rides to the concert-goers to get them home safely, and the thousands who gathered for a vigil at Albert Square last Tuesday to let the outpouring of love drown out the hate.  

Tragedies have a way of uniting us, of making us realize the vulnerability of our humanity and the unpredictability of life. At some point we all experience loss, and that empathy connects us. There may be a network of terror, but it is small compared to the network of support that can happen when people come together. There is still hope for this world.

It’s been reported that Ariana will return to Manchester to do a benefit concert this Sunday, June 4, to honor the victims lost and their loved ones.

She said in a statement released last Friday, “Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder and to live more kindly and generously than we did before.”