THE BLOG

Atrocities Such as Brussels May Make Us Pause - But They Must Never Make Us Stop

23/03/2016 16:35 GMT | Updated 24/03/2017 09:12 GMT

I am writing, again, in response to a devastating terrorist attack aimed at our allies; aimed at all of us. These are attacks that will go down in history, sadly, as one of many. Like the attacks on Paris, once again a country that is so similar to our own, in so many ways, has been struck with the sort of barbarism that is hard to comprehend.

In France it was bars, restaurants and a football match that were attacked; in Belgium it was an underground station and an airport. The normality of these locations, and the similarity to our own towns and cities is what makes these attacks feel like such a blow. Every individual in Britain can be forgiven if they pause for thought when they step out of the house after attacks like this, and be instantly aware of how easy it could be to target so many of the locations we go to every day.

This is the world we live in, and perhaps it is right that we are more aware of how vulnerable we are. However although this reality may make us pause, it must not make us stop. We must mourn those who have died, provide help and solidarity to those who have survived, and track down all perpetrators of this evil. But we must also carry on as normal, be who we are, and be the society that we are.

We must attack Isil abroad, and reduce the territory it holds, and I am glad the Government, with allies around the world remains committed to this. Some ask the point of taking this action, when you can plan an atrocity in a bedroom. This is true, but too many of our home-grown terrorists are travelling to Syria, training with weapons and explosives and then returning to Europe with much greater ability to create havoc.

We must remember that Isil still hold on to two major cities in Syria and Iraq. The Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq have successfully held ground and pushed them back, but they're crying out for more funding. A Peshmerga solider on the front line cannot concentrate on fighting if his family cannot eat at home. We must redouble our efforts to provide security in the region.

But we must fight at home too; for our society, our culture and our beliefs. We must fight for them by keeping our faith in them; by keeping faith in freedom, fairness and inclusivity.

You can disagree with our former Prime Minister Tony Blair on many issues, but he was right with his, sadly well timed, warning this week that we need to have a tough approach to tackling extremism. As he said: "we shouldn't let people intimidate us into thinking there are certain values we shouldn't be standing up for". We absolutely must to stand up for our values, and we need to do it with strength and confidence. And, perhaps we need to do it with more strength and confidence than we have had in the past.

Whenever we are faced with these situations, everyone speaks with the caveat that only a small number of Muslims threaten us and that the vast majority of those who follow Islam keep to its true message - which is as peaceful as any other religion. This is right and true; but it is a shame that these good intentions do not create change. It doesn't change the minds of racists seeking to justify their views, it doesn't melt the cold hearts of terrorists or their sympathisers, and it won't make Muslims threatened with racist abuse feel more secure as they go about their daily lives.

I have some experience of racism, and I know the hurt it can cause. I have had election posters torn up and daubed with racist slurs. I have had people say I shouldn't have an opinion on the EU referendum because I'm "not British". I have even had one person inform me that I should "go back to the camel trading bazaars of the Middle East"!

I am someone who came to Britain at the age of nine having left Iraq after the rise of Saddam Hussein. I was welcomed by this country, and I was welcomed here because of these values. They are why I am proud to be British, and I am unashamed to say that I believe our values, lifestyle and culture are superior to that which our attackers would like to impose.

We believe that women should be able to work, live, drive, dance and love as independent individuals without segregation, making their own decisions and having their own freedoms. We believe that gay people should have equal rights and not be held back because of who they wish to share their love and spend their lives with. We believe that you should be able to choose whatever faith you wish, and that you should be able to choose none, or whatever you want in between.

And we believe we should be able to spend our weekends having a drink, watching the football or catching a flight for a short break.

Anyone that does not ascribe to these values should be told that they are wrong with confidence, and without the fear that it could be seen as racist to challenge unpleasant values. It is not. In fact it is patronising and wrong to assume that the warped values of these terrorists are held by any race or religion in particular, or to suggest that there is something in the Muslim faith that precludes followers from desiring the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities that we all hold so dear in the UK.

We should not and cannot be shy. Holding back only cedes ground to racists who wish to make use of this violence for their own ends, and leaves a terrible vacuum into which only hatred falls.

So we must stand up, one and all and be counted. We are Paris, we are Brussels, and we are Britain. We are united by a culture that is the best, the most free and the most successful on the planet. We should say it and we should be prepared to defend it. And I hope that we will.

Nadhim Zahawi is the Conservative MP for Stratford-upon-Avon