As a former London counter-terrorism detective, I’m more aware than most of the threats that are posed by those who seek to spread fear and divide us. But as a person of colour, I’m also aware of the backlash and racism that follows such tragedies like the one unfolding in Brussels.
Like many, I woke up this morning to the terrible news coming out of Belgium. My first thought was for the people that have been killed and injured, and for the families that have lost loved ones.
My second thought was about the backlash towards people of colour that usually follows such atrocities, as happened after the terrorist incidents like those recently in Paris.
Let’s be clear: a terrorist is a person who uses violence in the pursuit of political aims, someone who uses intimidation to achieve what they supposedly believe in. For as long as I have been alive, terrorist acts have taken place throughout the world, daily. But for me, it is how we react to them that defines us.
It was three months after September 11th that I signed up to become a policeman in Manchester. The horror I saw in New York wasn’t going to stand in the way of my drive to help people of all races and religions. Terrorists want us to live in fear, and to fight among each other. Others want us to hate certain groups just for the sake of it.
I was raised a Catholic in Liverpool, but know from all the Muslims I have met and interacted with that the overwhelming majority who follow Islam are peaceful people and have nothing to do with terrorists or terrorism; some people, of course, would have you think otherwise. When they win, the terrorists win too.
At times like this, the media has an important role to play. It needs to keep us informed, but the concentration must be centred firmly round the facts, rather than speculation or dramatisation of horror and hatred. Not only does sensationalism help the terrorists cause, but such news reporting does a disservice to those that have been lost and injured, and their families.
Governments too and the security services we charge with protecting us have a great responsibility to ensure that we are as informed as we can be to keep us safe. Equally, their job is to make sure that we don’t turn on certain communities in an exercise of nonsensical scapegoating.
I’m a believer that there are more good people in the world than bad, and at times like this after Brussels, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. often bring me comfort and give me hope for the future and civilisation, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” My love to Belgium, and its people. I’ll see you soon.