About Manhattan…

I GLANCE at my phone on the way back to the table in the curry house. Through the window Clifford’s Tower looms in the darkness. Students in Halloween costumes go past, a chaotic stream of youthfulness and mildly reckless fun.

This is a boys’ night out. Four men linked by words in some way or other. A couple of pints and then a curry. It’s always good to meet and talk about books and politics and just stuff.

“There’s been a terrorist incident in Manhattan,” I say, sitting down.

Outside a girl dressed up for mock horror tries to climb the steep bank to the castle. She only gets so far before gravity and perhaps alcohol send her stumbling back.

The students ham up the horror on a site that has seen its share of real horror. In 1190 one of the worst anti-Semitic massacres of the Middle Ages took place there. The city’s entire Jewish community was trapped by an angry mob inside the tower of York Castle. Many chose to commit suicide rather than be murdered or forcibly baptised by the mob.They also set fire to their possessions and the wooden tower burned.

No one knows the number of victims, but according to English Heritage, modern-day keepers of the castle, “a later account in Hebrew suggests that 150 died”.

Resentment had been growing for some time against Jewish immigrants, many of whom came from France after the Norman Conquest of 1066. This hostile sentiment rose thanks to the presence of Jews at the Coronation of Richard I. The general hostility was stoked by the raising of taxes to fund the Crusades.

A false rumour said the king had ordered the massacre of the Jews and a man called Benedict was said to have been killed on his return to York.

Horrors old and new in one Halloween night. It’s not much of a comfort to think that people have been doing appalling and cruel things to each other since 1190. And way before that.

The Halloween crowds were out in Manhattan, too. Enjoying the night, caught up in the fun, when a deranged ideologue drove a truck along a cycle path in Lower Manhattan, killing eight people and injuring 11 more. Five of the dead were friends from Argentina, part of a group of ten who were in New York to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their graduation.

The incident is regarded as a terror attack, probably by a lone wolf, and the worst in the US since 911.

President Trump tweeted through the night, because that’s what he does, on ordinary days and hell days. His tweets ranged from the properly presidential, offering condolences and prayers and the thought that “God and your country are with you!”, to the usually Trump-esque: “In NYC, looks like another attack by a very sick and deranged person. Law enforcement is following this closely NOT IN THE U.S.A!”

After 58 people died in the Las Vegas shooting, and a further 546 were injured, Trump sent the following Tweet: “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you.”

He was criticised for that odd use of “warmest”. Notable in the President’s tweets at that time was a lack of anything to say about such huge loss of life in yet another mass shooting.

A life is a life. A life lost to a demented religious cause is equivalent to a life lost to a madman who sprays bullets on a music festival. Stephen Paddock acted for no known reason; the terrorist nutcase acted for reasons twisted out of his religion.

Both are forms of horror, both a sort of terrorism. Victims of shootings die in large part because the US cannot see the link between gun ownership and gun crime; last night’s victims died because one sort of God had a go at somebody’s else God.

Trump calls on God as an automatic reflex, without anyone having any true idea of his beliefs; the terrorist called on his God as an excuse for the evil that he did. That’s a god-awful lot of gods.

Outside, the students have gone to wherever students go. Soon we head out too, cycling home or walking home, at the end of a night that was happy for us and hellish in Manhattan. Happy and hellish seems to be our world.

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