Tolerance and solidarity will defeat terrorism

The recent brutal and cowardly murder of British and other tourists on a beach in Sousse, Tunisia has shocked us all.

Hilary_Benn copyFamilies and friends who travelled there to relax and enjoy the sun were murdered by a man with a violent ideology and an automatic weapon.

It is the biggest loss of British life in a terrorist attack since 52 people were blown up on a July morning in 2005, and as we have learned now these attacks can happen anywhere at any time.

As we know, three of the four 7/7 bombers lived or worked in South Leeds and yet what they did had nothing to do with our community; at the time there was incredulity and shock at the crime they had committed. What I remember most about the days that followed was the way in which, as a community, we came together in unity in the face of evil. There were peace marches and a coach that travelled to London full of people from Leeds who wanted to lay flowers at the temporary memorial at Kings Cross.

Fighting a battle against an army is one thing – and we are providing support to the Iraqi Government as they seek to defeat ISIL there – but fighting an idea is something else. This violent Islamist ideology sees others, including Shia Muslims, as unbelievers to be killed in the most brutal way possible, oppresses women and has complete contempt for our democracy and way of life. It does not represent the great faith of Islam, but it has hijacked it for political ends.

The way ultimately to defeat this view of the world is to be resolute in living our lives as we choose to. Our community has welcomed people from all over the world. We are proud of who we are and where we come from – I happen to be a quarter English, a quarter Scots and half American – and each day we show how human beings can and do live alongside one another and get on. Anyone who doubts that should just reflect on this summer’s festivals and galas across South Leeds where this spirit is there for all to see. It is this that these people cannot stand, and so they try to divide us.

And by asserting our fundamental humanity and showing that our way of doing things respects the faith and the dignity of all, this is the best way in which we can stand together against the Tunisian gunman in solidarity with those people whose lives he took. It is this determination to be ourselves that will enable us ultimately to win.