29/06/2015 12:33 BST | Updated 29/06/2016 06:59 BST

From Sousse to South Carolina: Confronting the Cycle of Terror

Gunmen and bombers left a swathe of death and injury in three terror attacks in Tunisia, France and Kuwait this weekend. They took the lives of at least 60 people and injured more than 200.

As the news poured in, the funerals were taking place of those slain in another crime motivated by hatred and designed to sow terror - the nine people shot in the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.


The calculated slaughter in the church was just as chilling as the carnage on the beach, in the factory and in the mosque. But what was equally startling was the uncalculated and unpredicted response of the families of the dead. When the young white supremacist, Dylann Roof, appeared by video at his first court hearing, family after family expressed their forgiveness.

Rapturous and positive rhetoric

Before the president spoke, other messages coming from the pulpit were full of what one journalist called the "rapturous and positive rhetoric" that has been so remarkable since the tragedy.

From among the extraordinary tributes and commentaries, one in particular stood out. Speaking about the killer's stated intentions to spark racial violence, the Reverend John Richard Bryant, senior bishop of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal, told the mourners. "He wanted to start a race war but he came to the wrong place."

The congregation of several thousand was electrified. The "wrong place" was not a place of fear, hatred or revenge. The relatives had not offered their forthright forgiveness from a place of powerlessness or naiveté. The place the killer had stumbled upon was a place forged by a long tradition of wisdom, great suffering and immense resilience.

It is worth reflecting on this display of fearless power, especially in these unnerving times.

As the reported death toll from Tunisia rose over the weekend, one commentator wrote from Paris : "The terror attack on a chemical factory near Lyon might have been devised deliberately to inflame France. The attack appeared to be an enactment of the worst nightmares conjured up by the Islam-baiting far right in France. There is a "fifth column" of traitors and enemies in our midst, the far right says. Any of the apparently harmless Muslims that you know and meet every day could be your executioner waiting for his or her moment to strike."


This poisonous anti-Muslim narrative, like most insidious prejudice, is based on a highly selective version of events. It takes no account of the fact that the most comprehensive United Nations Survey of the death toll attributable to the so-called Islamic State indicates that the vast majority of the more than 25,000 people it has killed or injured (2014 statistics), are Muslims themselves. Even a cursory review of the victims shows that we should be deeply engaged in preparing to defend our Muslim communities and their places of worship from assault, rather than spreading generalized hatred and suspicion about them.

If this poisonous narrative of Islamophobia is permitted to spread, then - as with all such mind-paralyzing hatred - the terrorists will have won. We must not grant them that victory. We must not allow our societies to be fatally infected by this pandemnic of pernicious suspicion and murderous intent. For this is the very same fear, suspicion and lethal hatred that fuels all acts of terror.

These horrors always begin with a string of lies. Common to all is the wholesale demonization of other people. Whether it be for their race, religion, sexuality or any other real or presumed identity they may have, they are collectively and indisriminately condemned.

The grim cycle of hatred and violence

Once these false narratives take hold they are infectious. The grim cycle of hatred and violence is perpetruated, this time with the avowed intention of not giving in to terror. The result -- as history, ancient and contemporary, shows us -- is the perpetuation across succeeding generations of the same prejudices, antipathies and the ultimate insanity of what has been so aptly described as "mutually assured destruction".

Like a juggernaut, the Islamophobia of this cycle takes no notice of any inconvenient truth that might run counter to its hateful purpose. It would take no account of the bravery and self-sacrifice of the Tunisian hotel staff who are reported to have formed a human shield to protect tourists from the gunman. One of the Britons fleeing the country, described, on arrival at Manchester Airport, how a hotel chef and a line of staff had told the assassin that if he wanted to shoot more tourists, he would have to kill them first.

This unarmed intervention deserves the highest of humanity's civilian awards for courage and dignity. Unhesitatingly, they placed themselves between the gunman and his intended victims in an act of fearless self-sacrifice transending all boundaries between people.

Breaking the Chain of Hate

This is how the chain of hate is broken. By such a complete reversal of expectation that the mind buckles. It is literally stopped in its tracks.

Suddenly the mind of hate finds itself in "the wrong place", the place spoken of by the bishop in South Carolina. It finds itself confronted and made futile by the unwavering presence of people openly, fearlessly and with complete vulnerability breaking the shackles of hatred.

While all eyes were glued to the aftermath of these horrors, there was another person from "the wrong place" making his voice heard in Britain. The "wrong place" he is in, like other resolute peacemakers, is a determination to prove that Islam is a religion of love and compassion and to break the vicious cycle of terrorism and Islamophobia.


Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, a Pakistani theologian who has achieved international fame after issuing a fatwa against suicide bomb attacks, was in the UK to promote a Curriculum on Peace and Counter-Terrorism. It draws on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad -- based on love and tolerance and coexistence and togetherness -- in order to deconstruct the logic of terror groups.

He told a meeting of several hundred imams and other leaders that a march for peace and non-violence by Britain's Muslim would be a challenge to the message of Islamist violence. In an interview he said it would "show that the Muslim community at large, they are for peace, they are against any kind of terrorism, they are not silent, they are vocal and they don't condone, they condemn it."

He said he hoped other religious traditions would join so that people would see all faiths working together.

If this were to happen, I would definitely march with them.

I feel there would be a vast number of other people marching too. We would want to be there, like the keepers of the faith in Charleston and the heroic staff in the hotel in Sousse, in that same "wrong place" of wisdom, compassion and the courageous defence of our common humanity.