It is hard to know what to write after the events of this weekend. The attacks which took place in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad are utterly heartbreaking and I find myself once again astounded at the fragility of life. Equally upsetting is seeing people use these terrible events to attempt to legitimise and promote their own bigotry and prejudices.
The attacks in Paris seem horrifyingly real and relatable to so many because we can easily imagine how it could have been any one of us. Many of us will have been to Paris. We will have walked those streets, been in those bars and restaurants.
However, this is not just about Paris, it is about all of us who hold values of freedom, tolerance and equality.
The motivation of terrorists is to cause terror. It is all too easy for us to fall into a mindset where we begin to question how we live our lives and the safety of our own country. Will I be afraid to travel to work? Will I be scared to go to a concert? Will I be put off visiting other countries? For me, quite simply, the answer is no. I could never adequately express how truly sorry I feel for those who have lost people they love in acts of terrorism such as these. I can not comprehend the horror of having someone taken away from you so suddenly and shockingly. However, we must not give in to those who want to create fear and division amongst us. We are better than that. We are stronger than that.
After the London bombings in July 2005, the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, had this to stay and it’s something that has always stayed with me:
I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others – that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail.
In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.
They choose to come to London, as so many have come before, because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.
The people of Paris took to the streets on Friday night to announce to these terrorists and to the world “pas peur”. Not afraid. And this is exactly what we should do. We can not change what has happened, but we can honour those who have had their lives taken by living ours.
Sing, run, dance, laugh. Spend time with those you love, have fun, be kind. Stand up for what you believe in, stand up for your rights, stand up for those who need your help. This is our strength. They may have shocked us, they may have broken our hearts, we may be unable to make sense of these murders, but if we stand together this is not a war they can win.
So here’s to Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité. We will not be beaten.