I’ve always cared, but when hatred landed on my doorstep on Saturday night it dawned on me for the first time (naively indeed) that this is our new normal. We have been living a privileged life and now we are faced with one that felt so far away. And while we grieve for what is lost, this pain exists in tandem with the knowledge that as a society we are experiencing a fraction of the terror that is daily reality for so many around the world.
We are only learning what it feels like to not be able to keep our children safe.
We thank those who serve to protect and save us when the unimaginable happens. Yes, the emergency services did us proud. Yes, a response time of eight minutes is impressive. And yes, we come together in grief and determined defiance, as we’ve always done.
But truthfully, when there is evil amongst us, shouldn’t we be more angry?
Pledging to continue living our lives the way those who would murder us – have murdered us – despise, when not one person on Saturday night thought, “Today is the day”, is a hollow pledge. We continue because we have to but how many of us will change our plans when we’re freed of those obligations?
I won’t be the only mother who has decided against taking her children into the city because while I am able to Run, Hide, Tell, how do I do that with a two and four-year old in tow?
How do we stay strong when evil makes it clear that we are all but random targets?
How do we stand together when hate-filled voices and actions seek to divide us – when it’s not the division between the terrorists and us that threatens our society, it’s the division the terrorists seek to sow in our midst?
And how does talk of hope not hate, love, peace and unity feel anything but trite and futile when people are dying in our streets?
All the words have been said too many times, but none are ever enough and they are tired. We’re all tired of being defiant, resilient and pretending we’re not scared. And there is an alternative rhetoric that at times like this, with our resolve chipped away at, our conciliatory words threadbare through overuse, becomes increasingly seductive.
Take action! the angry voices implore, the implication being that those who could stop this are choosing not to. We look to the Muslim community to take responsibility and we ignore that those who commit these crimes are to Islam what the Ku Klux Klan are to Christianity – when was the last time we heard the Christian community having to answer for those who pervert their faith?
The same voices choose to ignore that Salman Abedi was reported five times to the Police by his community.
And the same voices look for cheap answers and easy blame without pausing to consider what the root causes of radicalisation might be.
Extremists, the mentally ill and psychopaths have always existed but now they have the ability to reach inside the homes, minds and hearts of vulnerable, marginalised people to twist their thoughts and darken their hearts.
Many of their targets are people who already feel the society they live in does not welcome them, does not offer them opportunity or belonging, so when someone comes along and tells them this is where you belong, we value you, then surely the seduction is easy to not condone, but understand.
We only have to look at the rise of UKIP, with its single issue platform of immigration, to understand that when people feel ignored they will change their views and move away from their fundamental values in order to feel represented. People will cut off their nose to spite their face in order to “stick it to the man” and when they do this the rest of us have a duty to ask But why?
Of course UKIP members and representatives are not murdering in the name of their cause (although we must never forget that Thomas Mair murdered Jo Cox motivated by extreme right-wing views – he was a terrorist too), but if we can understand what has driven people into the right-wings of their rhetoric, then surely its no great leap to understand how people can be radicalised and turned into terrorists?
But instead of trying to understand, those who Brendan Cox said “lick their lips when people die and use it as a chance to spread hatred” tell us the extremists are laughing at us. Theresa May tells us that we are too tolerant – we are to blame because we’re not angry enough.
Claiming to have the answers, “arrest, incarcerate, deport, repeat”, says that trumpeting abomination of British values, Katie Hopkins – and when we’ve been hit with bombs and vans and knives, it seems fair to question the validity of vacuous platitudes of love, harmony and togetherness. We wonder how can we justify only arming ourselves with words?
But discomfort with this narrative should never be far away. Of course more needs to be done – no one is suggesting we should condone the actions of the few that terrify the many – but when there are calls to arrest and imprison people we have to ask, “At what point?”
Laws in the UK already ban incitement to hatred and violence, including on the grounds of religion or belief, so how much further do we go? Are we really prepared to take steps towards the chilling precedent of Thought Crime set so far only in fiction? Are we ready to indefinitely incarcerate people without trial?
Defending British values by echoing the policies and behaviours of nations we criticise and claim to be morally superior to – Saudi Arabia for example – is stark in its hypocrisy. Are they the example we really want to follow?
I’m no expert. The questions are huge and many, the solutions so far are few, and as those with the knowledge and power wrangle for the best course of action I am left uncertain and scared about our future, often breathless with incomprehension at the horror that just keeps coming.
But while I accept love and hope are useless in physical combat with bombs and knives, it seems to me that the biggest falsehood exists in the narrative that insists aggression is strong where compassion is weak; love is naive but hate holds the answers.
Deep down we know the truth – history tells us hate has never resulted in anything except more hate; peace is born from peace – and its a truth to which we must keep returning.
To look after each other; to refuse to turn to hatred and be eaten up by anger; to stand together, are actions of power and significance.
Alone they are not enough – the solution, should it ever be found, will be varied and complex. But nothing will work if decency does not exist as its foundation, and it’s a foundation we can all help build.
Image credit Cleo Wade