Image: Yahoo News
Events in France last week have shaken us all to the core. The cold-blooded callousness of the shootings met with our most vigorous outrage and condemnation. The targeting of innocent French Jews and journalists brought home a message very different from the one the attackers wanted to send: that an injury to one is an injury to all. The story spread across the world because the vile inhumanity of these attacks was clear to all, because we stand in a tradition of tolerance and humanitarian values, and because where innocents are killed, we all suffer.
It was inspiring to watch millions of people on the streets of France marching with a message of unity, peace and freedom. We are mourning, and we express our deepest sympathies to the families and the friends of last week's victims. Then if there is anything we can take from this, it must be to work together to strengthen our communities and resist the politics of hate.
Michael Deacon expressed a point I broadly agree with in the Telegraph; the fact that Charlie Hebdo printed insensitive cartoons had little to do with the attack. When the terrorists struck those offices, they were hoping for an Islamophobic backlash. They were hoping that their malign actions might provoke a wave of bigotry that would allow them to prey on the edges of European Muslim communities.
They have got their way to an extent- there has been street violence, and there have been calls for extending more powers to the security services- something which doesn't fit with a movement highlighting the importance of free expression. But when Rupert Murdoch or Fox News, for instance, attacked Muslims as collectively responsible for the attacks, voices from across the globe and across British politics stood up to them, including the Deputy Prime Minister. And whilst Muslims should not be expected to apologise for acts that have nothing to do with the overwhelming majority of us, I am proud of individuals like the Madrid Muslims who launched 'not in my name' protests in response. Because the vile groups of people behind the Paris attacks, the Boko Haram massacre in Nigeria, the Peshawar school massacre and the persecution of minorities in Iraq and Syria need to realise that they speak for no-one but themselves.
Defending free expression is important. I am not sure I trust some of its current 'advocates' to do so - including the leader of a country that jails more journalists than anywhere else in the world, the leader of another country that killed multiple journalists in Gaza over the summer, and the leader of a country that publicly flogs journalists.
The people I do trust to stand for free expression against all forms of hate and extremism are ordinary people- those who took the streets of France to condemn the recent attacks, and those in my own borough who hold a proud tradition of defending human values and our own community spirit. We have our own peddlers of division to deal with; both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks in London have surged in the last year, for instance.
That's why Sunday's unity march has inspired me to step up the pace here, to use whatever resources we have to ensure that faith groups, community organisations, public services and local leaders are continuing to work together and ensure that there is never any place for bigotry, intolerance or violence in this great city.
This is not a situation where we can fight fire with fire. We should fight the ideologies of hatred and violence with an ideology of peace and caring. We need a commitment to honouring the memories of the French journalists, Jews and police officers including a Muslim killed last week, and that involves all doing our bit to create a world in which such horrors are confined to history.