Over the past few years I’ve become all too familiar with barbaric acts of terrorism aimed at the innocent. We all have. But I never expected to see one taking place right outside my office window.
On Wednesday afternoon, that’s exactly what happened. Yet while the murderer who attacked the heart of our democracy succeeded in bringing death and destruction, he did not bring terror. He did not bring fear. And he did not bring division.
Instead, he showed just how united our nation is and how we refuse to allow terrorists to undermine the values that make this country great.
When I looked outside I saw two teams of paramedics fighting equally hard to save the lives of a brave police officer and the coward who murdered him. I saw police officers giving aid to the man who had just attacked one of their own. I saw men and women responding to an act of hatred with professionalism and compassion.
My colleague Tobias Ellwood MP, a man who knows all too well the human impact of terrorism, did not think twice before dashing forward in a bid to save a life.
Now, it falls to the all of us to continue that spirit of defiance. To show that we are not and will not be divided. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, where your parents were born or what god, if any, you worship. In this country we are all part of one society, one community.
Half a century ago, my parents came to this country from Pakistan precisely because of those values. Like the vast majority of immigrants and the vast majority of Muslims they accepted that these rights and freedoms could only exist for them if they existed for everyone. And, like the vast majority of immigrants and the vast majority of Muslims, they raised their children to believe that these values had to be defended.
That’s why my younger brother is proud to serve his country as a police officer. That’s why I’m proud to be a member of the cabinet. Because the Muslim values we were raised to believe in are the same British values supported by tens of millions of people in this country.
In the days and weeks ahead I have no doubt that some will try to exploit this tragedy, attempting to drive a wedge between us in order to further their cause. If we allow them to do so, then we are doing the terrorists’ work for them. They want our great, British community to turn on itself. Instead, we must stand together and fight our common enemy.
At 9.30 yesterday morning the ring of the division bell signalled that the day’s business was beginning. But it also sent a signal to the wider world that the work of our democracy continued, stronger than ever. And that, no matter how hard the terrorists try to divide us, they will fail.