THE tears of sorrow rolling down the cheeks of a forlorn firefighter epitomised the nation’s sombre mood at this desperately challenging time.
Tears wept in memory of the victims of last week’s Grenfell Tower inferno and all those who could not be saved by the heroic emergency services, they also represented a country’s despair as it tried to comprehend the latest terrorist attack against this country’s cherished liberty.
As his colleagues linked arms, this show of solidarity by firefighters was, in a painful coincidence of timing following the horrific events early yesterday outside Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, a visible and heartfelt demonstration that an attack on one is an attack on all.
Terrorism is terrorism, as Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, said so emphatically, and this outage – a van driver deliberately ploughed his vehicle into a group of Muslims as they came to the aid of an individual taken ill – is just as indefensible as the recent atrocities in London and Manchester.
Just as there’s no place for the pernicious Islamist extremists who seek to divide Britain’s multi-cultural communities, there’s no place for the Islamophobia which appeared to motivate the perpetrator of this latest assault on human decency.
Here is the irony – and sheer futility of it all. The victims were members of a mosque which had actively taken part in The Great Get Together over the weekend in which people of all faiths, ages and background came together to condemn all extremism and honour the celebrate the life of Jo Cox exactly one year after the Batley and Spen MP was murdered by a neo-Nazi.
They were individuals who had disassociated themselves from the radical cleric Abu Hamza whose violent theology, preached at Finsbury Park Mosque, led to him being deported following a protracted legal battle led – and won – by Theresa May.
And they are fortunate to have a heroic imam, Mohammed Mahmoud, who pleaded for calm and allowed his body to be used as a human shield so the suspected terrorist could be protected from the fury of onloookers before the police arrived at the scene.
To her credit, Mrs May alluded to this in her latest Downing Street statement, now a tragically regular occurrence, before she made a personal visit to Finsbury Park Mosque to show that she, too, is standing shoulder to shoulder with all peace-seeking Muslims at this tense and traumatic time.
Indeed, the Prime Minister spoke for all when she said that the freedom to practise religion in peace is one of the unshakeable bonds of citizenship which symbolise the United Kingdom before adding: “It is a reminder that terrorism, extremism and hatred take many forms; and our determination to tackle them must be the same whoever is responsible.”
While the immediate priority is increasing security at mosques as the holy month of Ramadan comes to an end, the Government must not allow Brexit – or other difficulties – to stand in the way of renewed efforts to fight extremism and all hate crimes. And, in the meantime, it falls to the rest of Britain to show that extremists will never undermine a country that will always be proud to be defined by the strength of its communal bonds.
‘More in common’ – Britain, Europe and Brexit
AS BRITAIN comes to terms with its fourth terrorist attack in a grim three months, it was poignant that David Davis echoed the words of murdered Yorkshire MP Jo Cox at the formal start of Brexit talks with the EU.
Greeted by the European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, he said there is ‘more than unites us than divides us’ – a conciliatory tone at the outset of negotiations which will shape this country’s future destiny.
Mr Davis was right to echo the spirit of Mrs Cox after a weekend of unifying events across the country to mark the first anniversary of her senseless murder by a far-right extremist outside Birstall’s library. Despite the rancour since the EU referendum a year ago, Britain and the European Union will still be partners once this process is complete, notably when it comes to Europe’s future peace and prosperity, and the Brexit Secretary’s tone reflected this.
Yet it remains to be seen whether the Government will use the political vacuum resulting from the June 8 election to develop the ‘more in common’ theme and attempt to build a broader consensus here for its approach. Given that Theresa May lost her Commons majority when she asked voters to endorse her Brexit strategy, there’s an even greater onus on Ministers to heed the original call by The Yorkshire Post, now backed by senior politicians from each of the main parties, to forge a united front while also involving business leaders – Britain’s future can’t be left to party politics.