Sarah Ward Khan, London
Sometimes words are not enough. In life, times often come where we communicate through the raw emotions we feel because language cannot adequately express our feelings: the birth of a child, the death of a loved one and other such seminal moments. Yesterday, 22 March 2017, was sadly another such moment for me. Our capital was attacked by a terrorist driving a car. Death was random, senseless and cruel. PC Keith Palmer, a policeman on duty protecting the heart of our democratic system, a father and husband had his life cut short in a brutal manner. In tribute the Prime Minister has called him ‘every inch a hero’ and I could not agree more. A group of innocent French school children, far from their parents, enjoying a visit abroad left in hospital miles from their homes in a foreign land. There is no excuse, there is no justification for such evil, neither in the action of any government, nor in the teachings of any religion.
Yesterday, as the awful news rolled in and the death toll rose, I found it hard to formulate my thoughts coherently because I, like all Muslims living in Britain, will feel two very distinct sets of emotions. Of course, my prayers centred on the injured and the dead, their families and the tragedy of their situation. I also felt the initial shock at the terror and sadness at the momentary loss of security in what is generally a very safe country. But also, I felt a semblance of fear of rejection, of reaction, of possible retaliation.
Terrorism has been a part of British life for many years. As London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement in September our capital city has long been an obvious target. I remember the bombing of Hammersmith Bridge in the 1990s shortly after it was re-opened. I remember the nail bombs in London a few years later. I remember the summer of 2007 when it felt like we might be under siege. Each time our capital, or our country, has been attacked by terrorists, we have stood together and carried on our daily lives.
But now there has been a shift which perhaps everyone may not have noticed. Now, for many people, it may appear that there are some similarities between me and people who perpetrate the evil of terrorism. Previously, I have had no connection to such attackers, but now for some I do. Now, for some it appears that we have something in common: faith. I am a Muslim, proudly so. I wear a headscarf and I make my faith my guiding principle in life. Going by the working assumption of the authorities at this moment, the attacker appears to be of my faith. I attend a mosque and read the Quran; and if the initial reports are correct, the attacker may very well have done the same. For those who are not Muslim, who live far from our urban metropolis, how are they to distinguish between the attacker and me? If a terrorist asserts to read the Qur’an and learns hate and violence, why do I not do the same? How can you distinguish the good from the bad? The answer is simple, trust.
We need to trust one another in order to live in peace and security. The government has spent much time, effort and money trying to not so subtly enforce the wonderful nature of British values on its school children. We must all learn about the values of tolerance, inclusion and acceptance. The Prime Minister even mentioned these same values yesterday. But trust is rarely mentioned, if at all. As a society we have to trust one another and it the erosion of trust which now at times poses a risk to the very fabric of life here in the UK. When a person affiliated to the Muslim faith attacks us, and it is all of us under threat, we feel that other Muslims may also pose a risk. When my neighbour or a teacher, doctor or friend looks at me with suspicion, you make me feel separate from you and included with the wrongdoers.
You do not need to be afraid of Muslims. Despite what the ignorant and bigoted tweet on Twitter, Islam is a religion of peace, not violence. For every terrorist there are millions of peaceful Muslims. Have Muslims living in our society not earned the right to your trust? Can your trust in Muslims be broken by the actions of someone they do not even know? And Muslims have worked hard to earn this trust. My community, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has been active in the UK for over 100 years. We are doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, carers, students and much more. We plant trees, give blood, donate to charity, give aid to the less fortunate each and every day. We organise peace conferences to spread our message ‘Love for All and Hatred for None’. If you need our help, we will gladly give it.
So now, to those who may be living in fear of Muslims because of terrorism and violence. Remember I am Muslim, you can trust in me. We can never be able to eliminate the possibility of a person using a car or a knife against us. Neither can we ban either of these items, they are part of our daily life. The only step we can take is to carry on, more vigilant, more wary, but we should not let the actions of the extreme divide us.