I sit writing this on a bench in Tavistock Square. A wonderful open, public garden amidst residential flats and offices, not dissimilar to so many others in this great city of London. But this square is maybe more famous than most. Ten years ago a bomb exploded on a London bus that would end or drastically change the lives of so many. The last of the bombs to be detonated on the 7th July 2005 was along one of its bustling roads, just a few metres from where I sit to write this. Today, as then, this garden provides a poignant reminder of London at its best, in all its glorious sunshine and such fantastic diversity. Everyone is welcome here in this garden, memorial benches are here for everyone to use and the gates are open to all throughout each day.
I just left the Memorial Lecture of the 7/7 Tavistock Square Memorial Trust hosted by the BMA, this year delivered by Dame Tessa Jowell. It was such a fantastic lecture in so many ways. Powerfully delivered but sensitively balanced.
The audience was mainly a mix of families of loved ones lost, or survivors. Some emergency service personnel were also there. Dame Tessa so poignantly reminded us how the London bid for the Olympics was won less than 24 hours before the first bomb went off. But London refused to crumble. London stood strong, not just on the day but also, importantly, since then. "The optimism, openness and confidence were all things the bombers hated" she said "The killers wanted to divide people. But they have failed. Londoners eat together on Brick Lane. Muslims are breaking their fast in London synagogues. All faiths marched together over the weekend at London Pride".
Her speech was marked throughout with references to the atrocities that we saw unfolding in Tunisia last week too. Too many similarities for that to not be brought into our conscience this evening for sure. Holidaymakers enjoying the sun, relaxing with their families and loved ones - then terror and mayhem struck, one single gun-man driven by hatred and an evil, warped ideology that surely has no place anywhere in our world.
I find myself easily upset at the moment, tears in my eyes, my heart beating faster than normal. We are in Ramadan, the most blessed and holy time of year for me and millions of Muslims here and around the world. A heart-warming and special time of giving, of serving others, of remembering those less fortunate, of coming closer to God through prayer and remembrance. Then my mind quickly switches to feelings of despair and my heart feels heavy. So much sadness in the world, so many ugly scenes, so much bloodshed supposedly justified by people who want others to believe that my beautiful faith teaches and encourages them to do these things. Honestly, it makes no sense, my heart and head can't take it in most of the time.
I am looking at the photos of the people killed in Tunisia with such sadness. They could be my mother, my uncle, my nephew, my grandfather. So ordinary, yet their stories now become so extraordinary. How can the families cope, how can they bounce back from this, how can our country move on after seemingly being attacked in this way although it happened in another country it could so easily have been here.
I have no words. I can't understand how anyone can do this, none of us can. I will often look to my fellow Muslims for comfort, for some kind of understanding of where things have gone wrong. Sometimes I am disappointed and am met with a victimhood mind-set that somehow overtakes compassion, a blame game that is so much easier than looking inward at ourselves as communities or as individuals and thinking that maybe just maybe more can be done than it is now. Surely when an atrocity like Tunisia happens we are all reminded that there is no room for complacency.
I don't need to apologise, I don't need to accept the blame on behalf of those killers and I don't need to feel guilty. But I do feel an overwhelming urge to try and explain, to reach out, to hold hands with people who have been affected, to reassure those who are feeling scared or confused at what else might be round the corner. To somehow give hope, to show compassion.
Islamophobia is real, hatred towards Muslims is on the increase but my faith tells me that at times like these I need to reach out more, not less. I need to understand and get to know people around me more, not less. As Dr Rowan Williams said after the 7/7 bombings, we need to find "solidarity and common purpose". The former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks speaks about a "dignity of difference". In one of the most oft quoted verses from the Qur'an, it reminds us that God "made nations and tribes so that you may get to know one another".
As Dame Tessa asked so strongly today "how could those killers here and in Tunisia possibly believe that the world could be a better place because of what they did?" It makes no sense to me. I have no answers. My heart is torn between feelings of admiration and motivation when meeting survivors and their families but feels hopeless if I listen to the often very divisive nature of conversations online or the 'us and them' mentality where I so often find myself not fitting in to either position.
As a Muslim I believe that God does not send us tests that are too much for us to invidually bear. I am also an optimist and I know that we can use these ugly atrocities to bring us closer together not drive us further apart. I was reminded this evening that resilience is rooted in optimism. Hitler underestimated London bouncing back after WW2, the 7/7 bombers underestimated London and Britain ten years ago too. The scars and the hurt will always be there but we have bounced back and we will continue to do so. Resilience and humanity have been discovered beyond what many had ever imagined would happen.
I draw on my faith once again as the sun sets on another day in Ramadan and can only hope and pray that I and others can demonstrate through our actions and deeds an openness, confidence and optimism, that the bombers in London and the killer in Tunisia hated. That can so often win the day and will do so again and again and again as long as we want to make it so.