After the atrocities committed last week in Paris, no words feel adequate. First, let us remember the innocent lives lost: The people at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher grocery store, and the police officers killed in the line of duty. Let us keep them, and those close to them, in our thoughts and prayers.
The murderers wish, through their heinous actions, to divide us. Unfortunately, Islamophobic incidents are being reported across France and the wider world after the attacks, and there is genuine fear amongst many French Jews due to an atmosphere of increasing anti-Semitism. And around the world we can see the murderous effects of extremist ideologies and movements, with reports of up to 2,000 people killed by militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria in their deadliest massacre yet.
These actions must be a call to us all to band together in solidarity. Extremism needs mistrust and divisions to flourish. We must put much more focus on cementing good relations between communities and individuals, to ensure that the hate-filled rhetoric of extremists falls on deaf ears. When people of different cultures and backgrounds have strong and positive relations, attempts to stir up tensions are less likely to succeed.
We need to ask ourselves: Why are we letting murderers set the agenda? Increasing the divisions in our society is precisely what they want, and too often it seems we’re playing right into their hands.
We’re already seeing an increasingly polarised debate after the Paris attacks. People are feeling threatened, so naturally they dig their heels in and become less open to other perspectives. Instead of a dialogue where we explore both how we agree and disagree, we get a shouting match with people pitting their beliefs against each other in absolute terms. It’s all too easy to lose sight of all we share, and only focus on our differences. But now is the time to keep talking, to keep engaging. Let’s keep the lines of dialogue open and find solutions together.
What we should be asking is: How do we best protect our neighbours in the UK, France and further afield? How do we build a society where people of all backgrounds feel safe together? Taking a strong stand against violence and intolerance in all forms is of utmost importance, but we must also heal the rifts and tensions that the extremists exploit.
While we call for dialogue, more important is the building of relationships of trust. To assist communities after tragedies like these we need the soft power of solidarity, of demonstrations of understanding and compassion for our neighbours.
The Paris unity march and the rallies across France last weekend offer us hope and show a way forward. Millions of people of all ages, faiths and backgrounds got together and said: ‘We will not let this divide us. We are united. No matter what our differences are, we want to live together in peace.’
We believe this spirit of unity will win out in the long run, but it will require work and effort. We will certainly continue to work to make sure it does. We must collectively band together against the hatemongers who constantly seek to divide us through violence and fear. The best response to the tragedy in Paris is to stay united.