In the wake of the terror attacks in Manchester and London, there was one piece of footage that I found particularly chilling. The video appears to show the Manchester bomber in a small supermarket near the flat where he stayed, shortly before he strapped on his rucksack bomb for the arena.
He wanders down the aisles, picking up products and glancing at their labels. Was it the price or the nutritional information he was searching for? Among his shopping there was tuna and air freshener. Was he worried that the fish would leave a smell and the flat’s next occupants would think him inconsiderate? How could he plod through the entirely unremarkable on what he knew would be his last day on earth? Could anybody have said or done anything at that point to remind him of his own humanity and change his mind? What would those words or actions have been?
To brand this young man a monster removes the qualities that make a human: compassion, empathy, respect for life. De-humanising him makes him less responsible for his unthinkable actions, and his path towards them somehow inevitable.
What grotesquely altered state of mind must he have been in to believe the value of his own life was worth less than what he was persuaded was a greater cause? An indoctrination so strong that even when he saw the crowds of kids swell towards him from the arena, on a high from their evening, looking at the happy faces of his victims, he did not change his mind, he did not walk away.
For the loved ones of those murdered, the survivors and everyone traumatised by the events that took place on that warm spring night, there is the life they had before 22 May 2017 and the life after it. The life they live now.
As teachers, we discuss radicalisation as a form of grooming. Where a vulnerable person is targeted, carefully fractured from those close to them and have their identity slowly eroded to an extent where they are no longer able to think for themselves. This reasoning would make the bomber just as much a victim as those affected by his actions, albeit an impossibly complex line to take when faced with images of the broken families of those he murdered.
We will never know exactly what led Salman Abedi to destroy and devastate the lives of so many. We will never know how he could have been so all-consumingly influenced to do such a thing – or if there was a moment when he could have made a different choice. We will never know if there was ever an opportunity for intervention which could have prevented the sequence of events that defined his life’s course, and consequently that of so many others.
Abedi and his terrorist associates are responsible for the atrocity they committed. No one else. But as a community, we must reflect on what led him to believe it was the right thing to do, and search for lessons, even if at this point they are so heavily concealed.
Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and is director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons