I had an oddly emotional moment earlier in the week. I was on my way home, passing through Horsforth, and I stopped at a zebra crossing to let a little girl with a bike pass, as did another car on the opposite side of the road.
She was clearly on her way home from school and her bike was loaded with her books and bag. As she crossed, she smiled and waved thank you. I smiled back – and then burst into tears.
It was less than 48 hours after the devastation in Manchester which took 22 lives and has rocked the nation to the core.
The youngest known victim was around the same age as that little girl on the crossing.
I don’t know why, but my mind processed this moment into something deeply symbolic.
This little girl was wrapped up in her coat, had her safety helmet securely fastened and was navigating her way home in all innocence.
Her parents had sent her to school that day as well equipped for the world as they could.
But her safety was ultimately in the hands of the two adults at the steering-wheels of their cars. She trusted us completely to help her get safely across the road.
We protect our children in the best way we can, but we rely on the rest of the world to be equally careful in that protection, equally respectful of life in all its forms and equally able to hold the innocence of the young as sacrosanct, regardless of whatever else we (through our different life lenses) might hold sacred or profane, and might disagree on.
Every child is the child of all of us.
That’s how it should be. But in this messy, fraught world which we have created, that is clearly no longer true.
The bottom-dwelling scum who blew himself up at Manchester Arena had no respect for life. Neither did the scum who blew up a bus in Syria a few weeks ago, killing 68 children. Neither did the gun-wielding scum who killed 132 schoolchildren in Peshawar, Pakistan in a terror attack in 2014.
I refuse to refer to the perpetrators of any of these attacks as human. They were not.
They were not human and they were not Muslim. They were not of any religion or community or race. They were not even of the human race – from the moment they picked up their weapons intent on bloodshed they stopped being that.
What they were is a product of a deeply politicised global ideological warfare which few of us will ever fully comprehend. Although perhaps it’s now time that we really started to try and do just that.
We have had enough of endless platitudes from politicians and community leaders.
We have had enough of the hypocrisy and rhetoric. And yes, I am talking of the very same hypocrisy and rhetoric which sees world leaders effectively condemning entire billion-strong faith groups one minute, and shaking hands with brutal, dictatorial regimes who claim to be the gatekeepers of that faith the next. We don’t want to hear words of anger and violence and division. We don’t want extremists of any variety to capitalise on the blood of the innocents. We want our decision-makers and power brokers to pull their heads out of the sand, find solutions and help us all believe that they hold life as sacrosanct as the rest of us do.
We want every child in every city in every country to be able to cross the road – or go to school, or go to a music concert - safely and freely and without fear.