Credit: Jean Jullien.
Yesterday, I woke up feeling like I had reasons to be upset or stressed out. Unread Facebook messages, misunderstandings between friends, Christmas gifts that should have arrived ages ago... All these thoughts - and more - occupied my mind. And every single one of them was utterly trivial.
This morning, I woke up. Too often, we don't even think about how lucky we really are.
Whilst millions of us sat down around the TV with our families last night, dozens of people were being caught up in something unimaginable. Whilst I curled up on the sofa - a cup of tea in my hands and a dog on my lap - not that far away, in Paris, innocent people were being gunned down. People going to watch a football match. People out for dinner. People seeing a band in concert. People with no weapons, or political agendas. People who had not signed up to any kind of war. Just people.
Ever since 9/11, stories like that which unfolded in Paris last night have become depressingly familiar. Powerful minority groups - and it's vital to remember that these barbarians do not represent all of their religion - have successfully killed thousands of innocent people, in their bloodthirsty belief that they are right and justified in waging war against the West.
The word "Jihad" has been used to describe the violence inflicted by the likes of Islamic State, or Al Qaeda. But it is done so wrongly.
"Jihad" is not a word intended to refer to the violent slaughter of innocents. It's not supposed to mean a declaration of war against other religions, or cultures. The word "Jihad" has many meanings. It can refer to the act of striving to be a good Muslim, informing others about the religion's teachings, or protecting the faith against others who wish to bring it harm. In Islam, "Jihad" must only ever refer to force when no peaceful option is available and should such action ever be used, there must never be violence meted out on innocent people (more info here).
It's important to remember that. In the wake of such atrocities, there is, unfortunately, almost always misinformation and a desire for recriminations. We must never think for a second that our enemy is Islam. Our enemy are those who take the name of the religion and twist it in order to "justify" their lust for control, bloodshed and catastrophe. IS and their like are no more representative of Islam than the KKK are of Christianity.
Despite their words of "battle," IS and other terrorists like them are essentially cowards. How else can you possibly describe an "army" who wages war against the unarmed, the unprepared and the innocent? These aren't soldiers, going in to fight against people on anything remotely resembling "fair" terms. These are butchers, taking the lives of people who cannot escape, because, until it's too late, they have no idea that they need to. There is nothing honourable or brave about attacking men, women and children who are merely going about their lives. To do so is despicable. It's understandable that in the wake of last night's disastrous events in Paris, so many muslims felt the need to publicly condemn the terrorists. But it's depressing that they feel they have to, for fear of judgement. Those men in France last night, with their guns and their explosives, weren't representing the whole of Islam. Anyone with the ability to think for themselves should be well aware of that.
Wembley's arch was lit up in the colours of the French flag, last night. Many places around the world followed suit.
When I climbed into bed last night, my heart felt too heavy for my chest. I thought of those people, held hostage and killed in terrifying circumstances, when all they did was go out to see a band. I thought of so many families, desperately trying to reach loved ones. I thought of people who had gone out for dinner, or to see a football game, only to have their lives taken, or changed forever. I thought of the residents of Paris, trapped in their own homes, watching the horror unfolding on their television screens. I thought of the millions of peaceful muslims around the world, who will now fear reprisals from people too ignorant to realise that Islam does not condone these atrocities. I thought of the thousands, upon thousands of people killed in acts of terror all over the globe, many of which just don't receive the same coverage, but are equally tragic for all those involved. I even thought about the people indoctrinated into extremism and how their lives could have been different, had they never had their minds so shockingly manipulated.
And then, just as the tears began to subside and I realised how enormously lucky I was to be in a safe place, able to tell the people I love how precious they are to me, I thought of humanity and how it somehow always manages to prevail. Because in a city in which murderers were holding terrified concert-goers hostage, there were also taxi drivers switching off their meters and driving people home to safety for free. In a place where bodies lay in the streets, the residents were tweeting their addresses with the hashtag "#porteouverte" (open door), so that strangers, stranded with no safe place to run, could take sanctuary with them. This morning, whilst bullet holes remain in walls of old Paris buildings, hundreds line the streets to give blood for those seriously injured as a result of these despicable attacks.
There may be a minority of brainwashed, dangerous individuals, intent on causing us harm, but the rest of the world is united as one. We are, regardless of faith, nationality or the colour of our skin, just people. Humanity is capable of horrendous atrocities. But we are capable of incredible unity, love and empathy, too. That, more so now than ever, is something we must cherish and cling to.
There is almost certainly a long, frightening and violent road ahead. We may all pray for peace, but we are dealing with a force intent on destruction and we must be aware that there is no magical, quick fix in this situation, however much we desperately wish for such a thing to exist. But we do have a sense of unity. We do have hope. We have each other.
Today, I will hold my loved ones that bit tighter. I will grieve for the people who will never again have that same chance. I will feel sick to my stomach at the slaughter that took place in France's beautiful capital city last night. But I will remind myself:
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that."
- Martin Luther King Jr.
Let's none of us resort to misinformed hatred towards innocents who do not represent the actions of these terrorists. Let's refuse to use what happened in Paris to further any kind of closed-minded political agenda. Let's never allow a hateful minority to extinguish the freedom we are so lucky to have. Let's instead show love to those who need it. Let's hold on to hope.
"Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise."