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United with Manchester

Until this week, Manchester was likely known more to Americans for its legendary soccer team and its long history of star players like David Beckham than for what it is, an industrial city in northwest England with a population slightly smaller than Baltimore's. But today, Manchester United is more than the name of a professional sports franchise but a description of where Americans now stand — united with the people of Manchester who on Tuesday suffered an attack of a particularly savage nature, a suicide bombing outside the concert of an American pop star.

ISIS has already claimed credit for the Monday evening attack outside Manchester Arena as patrons were leaving a performance by Ariana Grande, a 23-year-old former Nickelodeon child star whose fans, understandably, skew young. The 22 dead and 59 injured — the official count as of midday Tuesday — included an 8-year-old girl who was killed in the blast and at least 12 children under the age of 16 who were injured, police reported. It was the worst terrorist attack to strike the United Kingdom in a dozen years.

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It is impossible to make much sense out of such senseless behavior — even whether ISIS truly played a role in it has not yet been confirmed by authorities — but it is not too early to feel sickened by the tragedy, to grieve for the families of those killed or to pray for the injured. To target the innocent in this fashion is cowardly, to deliberately aim at children is beyond twisted. Such behavior can never be allowed to advance a political cause, and so we stand with Prime Minister Theresa May and other world leaders who condemn such an act of pure barbarity.

But we also must be cautious to calibrate our reaction, to avoid the very behavior terrorists so often seek to provoke — blind anger, irrational fear or similar loss of reason. To stand resolute against terrorism is not only to condemn it but to avoid lashing out at the wrong people. President Donald Trump's initial response while traveling to the West Bank — to say a "wicked ideology must be obliterated" — comes perilously close to that blunder. What "wicked ideology" of "terrorists and extremists" does he speak? That is fine when applied to ISIS, which clearly qualifies for the wicked title, but wholly inappropriate if he seeks to condemn all Muslims, as he has done in the past.

While visiting Saudi Arabia earlier, President Trump urged Muslim countries to drive radicals "out of this earth" — but he also admitted he was not their to "lecture" them or impose the American way of life. Perhaps there is yet hope that Mr. Trump will understand the folly of embracing a religious war, as he so often did on the campaign trail — or perhaps banning millions Muslims from entering the United States under the pretense that their home countries are terrorism breeding grounds, an unconstitutional policy his administration continues to push.

As Winston Churchill once observed, "courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." The answer to the "lone wolf" attacker cannot be to condemn or expel an entire ethnic or religious group but to focus on the true perpetrators, that relatively small group of zealots who engage in high-profile crimes of mass violence to shock, to scare or to destabilize democracies. That requires more than the threat of military response but engagement and no small amount of patient bridge-building and outreach where appropriate.

Is President Trump the type of person who can, as Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did before him, embrace the mainstream Muslim community in America and abroad while also condemning extremists? His ongoing trip to the Middle East has offered the greatest hope of that to date, demonstrating that the U.S. harbors no ill will toward the Arab world. It is easy to call the suicide bomber in Manchester a "loser" or worse (the more disparaging the epithet the better, frankly), but it is much harder to stick to a rational and productive foreign policy in the face of an irrational and horrific attack. Tonight, Americans might offer a prayer not just for the victims but for wisdom from their (and our) elected leaders.

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