Well, that wasn’t supposed to happen, was it?
The wrong kind of fame
The festival, Purple Turtle, Ricky Gervais. There are a few things that come up in conversations about Reading with people not from around here. Maybe they remember paying £6 for a pint of Tuborg in a paper cup while watching some terrible Foo Fighters set ten years ago. Or they recall the mild inconvenience of getting the bus from the train station to watch their club earn a point in a tedious goalless draw at the ‘soulless Madgeski or whatever it’s called’.
That’s not really Reading, though. The same as Madame Tussauds and Aberdeen Steak House isn’t really London. Us locals know what makes this a decent town (and it is a town; it always will be, that’s part of the charm). We know what makes this a good place to live.
Sometimes bad things happen in good places.
The events of Saturday the 20th of June are now fully part of the DNA of where we live. There’s no way around that. The families of those that were murdered will likely never recover, how can they? All we can hope is that their pain dulls a little over time. The town, however, can get over it. We just have to accept that what happened will be one of the things we’re known for. At least for the foreseeable, anyway.
Understanding the aim
It’s not just the likes of Doritos, Home and Away and socks that set us humans apart from the animal kingdom. There’s also domestic abuse, nuclear weapons, environmental destruction and random stabbings in parks. Humanity is brilliant, shameful and complicated all at the same time. One of the most important things we have that separates us, perhaps our most valued asset, is our empathy. Lose that and we’re in serious trouble.
Empathy is why we all feel so shitty now. It’s why you might’ve felt like you’d been punched in the chest when the news broke. Understandably, for a lot of people, that sympathetic affinity begins and ends with those people who were killed (and their loved ones). Some of you might be able to extend that empathy, though. ‘What was going through the mind of the man responsible?’ ‘What was the aim?’ ‘What was the motivation?’ ‘What’s wrong with him?’
As a species, we’re obsessed with understanding. It’s why we spend trillions on space exploration. It’s why kids ask hundreds of questions a day. We need answers, we’re hardwired like that. We have to make sense of chaos to quieten our minds. If ignorance really is bliss, someone should tell the human brain.
After the ‘what?!’ comes the ‘why?!’
Unfortunately, anyone seeking any form of cognitive closure here is going to be left hanging. Only there is no ‘why’. There is no motive, no aim, no grand design. Sometimes dreadful things happen and it’s just a fucking great shame.
To name and shame
It didn’t take long for the name of the attacker to come out. The identity of the man would surely tell us all we needed to know about what had happened. Once his name began filtering out over news channels and on social media, a familiar narrative came back into view. Despite recent tensions across racial lines and Forbury Gardens playing host to a small and peaceful Black Lives Matter earlier in the day, it seemed clear that it was an old foe at work: the Jihadist.
It’s still culture wars, but a different battle entirely.
Perhaps there was a motive, after all. Maybe there was an aim. As evening turned to night and night into morning, police confirmed that they were ‘treating the incident as terror-related’.
And we all know what that means, don’t we?
Details began to emerge. Terms we’ve heard before, albeit not for a while, rang out… ‘Watch list’, ‘previous arrests’, the dreaded ‘asylum seeker’. Things became clear, not only did we have an awful, incredibly traumatic incident to deal with in which three people had lost their lives, we also had the inevitable backlash. The politics. The angry debates. The blame.
Further details soon made things complicated, though. Our assumptions may have been wrong. We heard his name and filled in the blanks. Trouble is? The man with the knife, the murderer, is thought to have converted to Christianity some time ago. There again, he’s also said to have claimed to have been an ISIS soldier and have helped in the overthrowing of Colonel Gaddafi.
What we know for certain is that he’d barely been out of HMP Bullingdon for a fortnight after a short stretch for assault. During his spell inside, the man was prescribed medication for post-traumatic stress and a suspected personality disorder. Previous to that he’d had a history of depression and suicidal inclinations.
Christian, Muslim, religiously fanatical or not, one thing is certain – this were the actions of a deeply, deeply disturbed individual. In all likelihood, a fantasist.
He was named, you can find his name online. It’s all over the newspapers. Personally, I say let’s forget his name. Let’s cut the man out of the story.
The blame game
So, then. Who do we blame? We have to blame someone. It’s all we have. When the shock subsides, it’s replaced with anger. There’s nothing you can do to help. Anger needs release. So you blame. In rants to friends or family or your other half, you blame. In hastily-written diatribes on social media, you blame. You’re angry and you’re on the attack. Someone needs to pay.
It’s catharsis. It’s cheap and it works. So who can we blame for what happened?
- The man responsible? It seems the logical place to start. Let’s blame him for the most part. After all, he was the one that ran into the gardens, knife in hand.
- MI5? Some folk will want to attribute some of the responsibility to the intelligence services. If they were watching this character, some will say, why was he allowed to do what he did?
- Mental Health Services? Could more have been done with the man before the attack? It’s a question a few people looking to scatter the blame may ask.
- Politicians? There’s always something they could’ve done or not done, right?
- God? After all, where the fuck was he…?
If it helps you to blame, go for it. We can’t hold onto the anger. Just be sensible where you point it.
So where does that leave us? What now?
Here’s how I see it. Bearing in mind that I’m the fella who runs Shit Things in Reading, don’t expect any great wisdom here. But hey – it’s 2020 and this is the internet. Websites aren’t exactly difficult to set up.
In the short term, we pay our respects. We give and read tributes. We try to understand what happened and – maybe – why it happened. We accept that, in all likelihood, we’ll never fully understand it. Some shit just doesn’t make sense.
These things are extremely shocking. With good reason… they’re extremely rare. So don’t be afraid. That’s easier said than done during a time of enormous widespread panic, of course. With millions of people too terrified to even consider leaving the safety and reassurance of their own home. But let’s all try, eh?
At the risk of falling off a cliff of Russell Brand-scale pretension, fear is the only true enemy. There’s no great force of evil out there. Despite what we’re told almost every second of every day.
Sometimes incredibly bad shit happens. This time it happened here. In the shadow of the statue that’s come to symbolise our town… The Maiwand Lion. Not the Cowardly Lion.
So don’t give in. FUCK FEAR.
See you down the Forbury Gardens soon, eh?