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For Manchester, as for Its Libyans, a Test of Faith

He attacked not just a concert venue. He attacked a city and its sense of self as the proudly cosmopolitan, multicultural capital of northern England.

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Manchester Stands Together in Grief

People gathered in St. Ann’s Square in central Manchester on Thursday to observe a minute of silence in remembrance of those killed on Monday in the terrorist attack.

Photo by Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press. Watch in Times Video »

The Manchester still reeling from Monday night’s terrorist attack is not the decaying postindustrial wasteland of the 1970s. Nor is it the Ecstasy-fueled party city that emerged a decade later, or the gang-ridden gun crime capital of Britain that lodged itself in the popular imagination at the turn of the century.

It is none of those things and all of those things. It is the gleaming glass towers of Spinningfields and the hipster bars of the Northern Quarter, the leafy suburbs of Chorlton and Didsbury, the high-rises of Hulme and the uneasy, red brick streets of Moss Side.

It is a city of 530,000 people — in a metropolitan area of 2.5 million — many of them now wondering whether the city really is the exotic, polyglot, polychrome place they believe it to be. It is smaller than London, of course, and perhaps not as rich or as sophisticated, or as famous, but no less confident or international.

As graffiti on a disused rail depot not far from Piccadilly train station has it, Manchester sees itself as “a haven for heathens, hoodies and hipsters, hijabis and Hebrews, highbrow intellectuals and however-you-sexuals … it’s home to all.”

It is that open-mindedness that first brought Libyans here, in search of their own haven. “People often call it Libya’s second capital,” said Hashem Ben Ghalbon, a Libyan who has lived here since 1976 and who was, for decades, one of the leading figures in the dissident movement based in Manchester after escaping Colonel Qaddafi’s rule.

When he first came, he said, he found “no more than a hundred” of his countrymen.

“If you go to the hospital up the road, there will be Libyan doctors,” said Saif Eddin, who moved to England from Libya 12 years ago and has spent the last decade in Manchester. “If you get a coffee at Costa Coffee or Caffe Nero, the guy serving you will be Libyan. There are lots of Libyans who work at Manchester Airport. If you go to the immigration office, the woman who works there, she’s Libyan.”

Source: NYT > World

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