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The Fight They Won’t Win

On Monday night at about half past ten, hordes of teenagers and young children started to pour out of Manchester Arena following an evening enjoying an Ariana Grande concert. Some carried the pink balloons that had played a part in the show. Happy chatter and laughter filled the air. There was no warning of what was to follow as Salman Abedi walked in to the foyer filled with patiently waiting parents, and those starting to leave the venue, and detonated a horrific suicide bomb, filled with nuts and bolts – created to cause the most damage possible. The moment of the explosion was caught on a dashcam of a waiting car. The sound deep and unforgettable. A moment of violence that would change the lives of those standing around Abedi at that moment, and those who saw the carnage afterwards.

The UK has become used to hearing about terrorist attacks at home and abroad. We all know that the police have already managed to stop several attacks due to surveillance and intelligence methods, honed over years of dealing with IRA terrorism in the past. We knew that there was the chance of more attacks. But for an extremist to target an audience of predominantly young people, some very young indeed, has been the cause of deep anger and shock across the nation.

Abedi, whose family originate from Libya, was born in the UK. He has had the opportunity to free healthcare from our NHS, he has had free education and schooling, he has had the freedom we cherish in the UK. We took his family in when they needed to escape Libya and Gaddafi. He repaid that kindness by striking at the heart of what our freedom stands for – the chance to enjoy music and dancing, to gather with friends and family, to celebrate a female singer who stands for female empowerment and independence. That he chose to target a predominently young, female audience was surely no accident. Islamic State, as they choose to call themselves, are against the emancipation of women, against equality. I wonder what went through his mind in those seconds before he detonated his bomb. Did he see the faces of those around him? Did he feel for one fleeting moment their humanity and innocence?

As the investigation commences in to Abedi’s connection with extremists, this horrendous attack and the thinking behind it, must be a catalyst to stop this disease within our society. We value our freedoms and we value our diversity as a nation. We welcome those from other cultures who wish to share those aims, who wish to work here and contribute to our communities. But those who wish to come in to our midst and sow seeds of discord and violence are not welcome. There must be and has to be a clampdown on those who profess extremist beliefs, who wish to bring Sharia law to our shores, those who engage with radicals and are determined to boost their cause. These people must be removed from our communities. It seems that each time an extremist causes carnage, the police admit that the culprit had already been on their radar. Those on the radar must now be dealt with, and there has to be a determination from law enforcement and government to do this.

This is not about race. This is not about religion or culture. This is about refusing to accept extremist, violent people – CRIMINAL and ANTI-SOCIAL people who are against everything we as a nation stand for and believe.

And as we come to terms with the grief and shock of losing 22 people, who did nothing more than go out for an evening of entertainment, we must hold our beliefs dear. We must stand strong and show these inhuman extremists what love and faith and unity really are. For it is at the very worst of times that we see the best in human nature. We must continue to be tolerant and accepting and free people, the very opposite of the hate, intolerance and cruelty the extremists promote.

And in living our free lives, they can have no hold over us. It is a fight that they can never, and will never, win.

 

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Marina Litvinenko

Whilst watching the recent documentary about the murder of Russian defector and spy, Alexander ‘Sasha’ Litvinenko, I was struck not just by the inhuman tragedy of his death, but also by the magnificent stoicism of his widow, Marina.

With quiet strength and great eloquence, she told the story of her husband’s fight for freedom – and then his fight for life and justice against his killers. The Channel 4 documentary, Hunting the KGB Killers, told the haunting tale of the death of Litvinenko and the subsequent medical and criminal investigation in devastating detail, using the medical team and police investigators who were on the case.

But it was Marina, speaking with her gentle Russian accent, was the one who really drew me in.

Not only for her strength in standing by her husband throughout his career and his fight to tell the truth about his dealings with Russia, but also her determination to bring his killers to justice. To give them a name as criminals, even if they were never legally charged.

With no fanfare or self-publicity, this elegant woman’s only aim was to bring a rightful and just conclusion to the traumatic loss of her clearly much loved husband. In an age of media greed and celebrity, I found her not only charming but deeply impressive.

Never asking to be in the spotlight, it is the campaign which takes priority, not her own image. She acts in response to a conversation she had with her husband just before he died. He asked her to tell the truth, and that is her intention. She knows she is monitored, she is watched by those in Russian government – yet, her desire for justice and truth remains unchanged. In this, she is following her husband’s path. It is ironic and worrying that his determination to shed light on Russia’s underhand dealings led to his demise. Her bravery cannot be overstated.

Protecting their son, Anatoly, while continuing the fight for Alexander’s assassins to one day face justice for their actions, is Marina’s aim in life. She hopes they might one day be able to return to Russia, but so far this has been impossible for safety reasons.

As Marina said in the documentary, those responsible may never be physically punished for their crime – but at least they were named in the verdict at the Royal Courts of Justice:

“Even if you are not in prison, you are already punished. To wake up and go to sleep, to know people knew you are criminal, you are a murderer.”

And for Marina, some semblance of justice is better than none.

 

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PC Palmer and the Re-Appreciation of the Police

When, on Wednesday 22nd March 2017, a crazed fanatic drove his car down the pavement of Westminster Bridge before plunging a knife in to the policeman who was standing guard at the Palace of Westminster, nobody could have foreseen the national feeling of sorrow and loss for a serving policeman doing his job.

Unarmed and at the front line, PC Keith Palmer was used to checking in arrivals at parliament, fielding questions from passersby and having his picture taken with tourists. While trained for such possibilities as terrorist attacks, it is unlikely that he was expecting that moment when an armed Khalid Masood approached him, with murder in his mind.

PC Palmer was, by all accounts, a decent man. He had served in the army, he was good at his job, he had a family and friends who loved him. He didn’t deserve to die in such a gruesome way, by an attacker who just wanted to make a political or religious point.

The outcry following PC Palmer’s death was genuine and heartfelt. So often, the media are happy to complain about our emergency services – particularly the police – for missing clues or not acting as deemed appropriate by some journalist or other. The truth of the matter is, that while some police actions may not be adequate, or may be mis-judged, every day these men and women face dangers and unpleasantness that most of us would happily run away from.

PC Palmer knew that there was a minute possibility that someone might target him for the very uniform he was wearing. Now, more than ever, when our service men and women are warned not to travel to or from work in their uniforms, he knew what it meant to stand where he was, acting as the policeman on duty that morning. He still did his job.

While others ran for safety when gunshots and screaming were heard, our emergency services were running in the opposite direction -straight in to danger. It is gratifying to know that so many felt the loss of this policeman doing his duty that his body was allowed to rest in the Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft at the Houses of Parliament – an honour usually reserved for heads of state – and that he was given a funeral at Southwark Cathedral, after being taken along a route lined with mourners and 5000 police officers, standing in silent tribute.

So often our police forces, and other emergency services personnel, bear the brunt of not only dealing with our worst moments of crisis, but our vitriol when things go wrong. Let us remember that every day they risk their lives and their safety to make sure that WE are all kept safe. And that makes them the biggest heroes of all.

RIP Keith Palmer.

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Trump, Tyranny and Terrorism

When Donald Trump was announced the winner of the American presidency, there was a sharp intake of breath internationally. That this oddly bronzed, blonded business magnate had succeeded against other highly qualified candidates was bizarre to say the least. His first few months in office have been charged with controversy, contention and criticism. His latest move has been to bomb Syria, following the harrowing imagery of chemical assault on civilians. Trump’s sudden decision to move against the Syrian regime comes after months of declarations that the Assad presidency should remain in place without challenge. ┬áThere are, however, mutterings that Trump’s move against Assad’s regime in Syria might not have been all that it seems.

The doubt that many have about Trump’s ability to lead in a transparent manner is the tip of the iceberg in a political career that has so far involved refusing to speak to journalists due to claims of ‘fake news’, accusations that his team have been fraternising inappropriately with the Russian government and a first lady who is apparently ensconced in a gilded tower in New York, to huge expense. It is possibly the strangest start to a presidency ever.

2017 sees a world in crisis. The rise of religious extremism in the form of violent groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda has seen huge swathes of populace forced from their homes in the Middle East. The mass of refugees seeking safety has alarmed many, especially the inability of border control to ascertain for certain who many of the fugitives really are. Trump seized upon this fear with alacrity, attempting to block whole groups of nationalities from entering the United States; his whole-scale moves to deal with perceived problems often seem hasty, ill thought out and lacking in depth and complexity.

The question of whether the Trump campaign was aided in any way by Putin continues to rumble, investigations are still underway. His latest move in bombing Syria may be seen as a new division in the relations between the USA and Russia – or it may not. Only time will tell whether Trump’s latest manoeuvre, like so many others, was really what it seemed.

 

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The Brexit Question

The morning after the Brexit vote had taken place, there was a strange feeling of shock in the air. From Leavers to Remainers alike, nobody seemed to have quite expected that the result of the vote would have actually been in favour of leaving the EU. And rather like the word ‘Brexit’ itself, there was a new ugliness in town which caused both sides to feel at odds with the other. Those in favour of remaining in the EU shouted about a sudden rise in racism sweeping across the nation, while proclaiming the Leave campaign had been based on a web of lies designed to instil fear in voters. Those in favour of leaving the EU were appalled by the sudden viciousness aimed at the older generation – that they shouldn’t have a voice, that they were ruining the future for the young. They also proclaimed that the Remain campaign had been based on a web of lies designed to instil fear in voters. Remainers were deemed ‘liberal lefties’ and Leavers were deemed ‘racist idiots’. None of it reflected well on a nation whose identity has traditionally been based on soldiering on with a stiff upper lip and putting the kettle on.

The referendum itself seemed an odd concept to me. We vote for politicians who will make decisions on our behalf, based on the views of their constituents. To turn to the people may have seemed a good campaign promise but the reality cast the nation in to a swirling mass of disagreement and uncertainty. The general consensus of David Cameron, after deciding to call the referendum, was that if the vote went against remaining in the EU, the country would immediately go to the dogs. It seemed a bizarre decision to ask people to vote on an issue that apparently could only have one safe answer. Why ask the question then, one asks?

Cameron’s determination to put the case forward for EU inclusion, coupled with his apparent upper class inability to see what was really happening in the less affluent regions of his country, was his downfall. People everywhere, people who weren’t on social media talking about it, but leaning over their garden fences discussing the news, wanted change. They wanted an end to cuts, to a faceless bureaucracy making decisions for a country that had managed perfectly well for hundreds of years without it, to frightening images of religious extremists apparently entering Europe under the guise of refugees. That’s what they wanted. Whether others agree or not, this was the feeling and Cameron didn’t see it. The fact that he had asked a question then implied that there was only one reasonable answer meant that people didn’t believe him.

For me, I know people on both sides of the fence. Both, on the whole, are reasonable, good people who made a choice based on what they had been told. Some of what they were told was fear mongering, on both sides. But they made a choice. And now we all have to make the best of the decision that was made. The UK has always been stoical, rather kind hearted and keen on civility. I don’t see that changing, whether part of the EU or not.

And getting on together, moving forward together, has to be the biggest goal of all.

For the media, their message now needs to be one of optimism. This is not the time for gloom. Like Winston Churchill, who fired up the masses during the second world war with words of strength and spirit, the rhetoric has to be positive. As the saying goes, If you believe you can, you will. If we believe that we can make the UK stronger and freer, if we are told that we can – then we will.

Let’s focus on that.