Skip to main content
editorial

There is no prescribed way to respond to the atrocities committed in terrorist attacks.

No one can dictate to us how to react when we read of innocent people being mowed down by a truck in Nice, or slaughtered with machine guns in Paris, or maimed by a bomb filled with nuts and bolts in Manchester, or killed by a car bomb outside an ice-cream store in Baghdad during Ramadan.

Anger, sadness, horror, resolve... They are all part of any person's repertoire of emotions when digesting news of the latest attack by Islamic extremists, like the one in London on the weekend.

The innocence of the victims, and the suffering they and their families endure, cause our hearts to shatter. But perhaps the hardest part is that, at these very worst of times, when inhumanity has made us uncertain that we can take any more, and we want to lash out in fear, revenge and anger, we are called upon to be at our best.

The necessity of preserving our humaneness was never more on display than after the attacks on London Bridge and in a nearby pub district on Saturday. From the victims and their families, to politicians around the world, the reactions we witnessed were lessons in the value of compassion, courage and common sense in the face of horror, and in how divisive politicking has less than nothing to offer at times like these.

The leading purveyor of uselessness was, of course, U.S. President Donald Trump. When compassion and solidarity should have been his priorities, he instead used lies to falsely accuse the mayor of London, who is Muslim, of being soft on Islamic extremism. And he seized on the killings to push pet agendas.

His Twitter attacks on the "slow and political" American courts that have overturned his bans on Muslim travel to the U.S. were to be expected. It has been plain for some time that Mr. Trump intends to portray himself as the heroic victim of the courts should there ever be a terrorist attack on Americans under his watch, and his ban isn't in place. His cynicism on that score is not new.

Where Mr. Trump broke new ground was in a tweet in which he said gun controls would not have prevented the London attacks, because the killers used knives and a vehicle. What kind of American leader exploits a foreign tragedy on behalf of the National Rifle Association? The NRA used to have to do its own marketing in the wake of bloodshed. Not any more.

In London, it was impossible to hope that the attack wouldn't be politicized, as it took place just days before Britain's general election on Thursday.

Prime Minister Theresa May, whose country has suffered three terrorist attacks in three months, echoed many people's thoughts when she said, "Enough is enough." She vowed to step up policing and anti-radicalization measures, and to look for ways to stop extremist materials from being distributed on the Internet.

Her opponents used the attacks to portray Ms. May as weak on terror, on the grounds that she had reduced police budgets while she was Home Secretary. But those opponents, including Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, are also susceptible to criticism when it comes to countering terrorism.

The truth is, no politician is immune on this score, especially in the days after another attack. The judgment of everyone in authority can and must be called to account, so that these terrible events can at least have a legacy of teaching governments and police how to better protect people.

But those same leaders must resist the inevitable calls for overly harsh measures that repress civil liberties in the name of security. In their anger over the extremists' cowardly displays of cruelty, people will begin to support illiberal measures. It is the responsibility of leaders to resist such calls; to reduce the threat of terrorism without abandoning the principles of liberal democracy.

And that's not easy. In fact, it is incredibly difficult. For inspiration, we should all look to the people most affected by terror attacks: the victims who bring their humanity to the forefront at seemingly impossible times.

In Baghdad, after a bomb planted outside an ice-cream store by the Islamic State killed 16 men, women and children enjoying a treat after sunset during Ramadan on May 30, people returned to the store five days later for a free cup of ice-cream – an act of open defiance.

Here in Canada, the family of Christine Archibald, a Canadian woman who was among the seven people killed in London, asked the world to remember her as a kind person who worked in a homeless shelter. "She had room in her heart for everyone and believed strongly that every person was to be valued and respected.… Please honour her by making your community a better place."

We cannot speak to their personal grief, but the family's public reaction is truly inspiring. It is incumbent on us to preserve our humanity, even when others abandon theirs.