The images in the text are those I projected onto the wall during the assembly.
I know we don’t usually have assembly on a Thursday, but I wanted to get you all together to talk about what happened in Woolwich yesterday. I wanted to talk to you because I think it’s important that when scary and sad things happen in our community, that we do get together, that we talk it them openly, and that we are able to share how we are feeling, if we want to. That’s what a community does. It’s what a family does.
I also wanted to talk to you about how we choose to react. If you’ve been talking about this with your friends and family, or if you’ve been reading or watching the news, you will have seen a range of reactions. And I wanted to say to you all that you have a choice. You can choose whether this changes how you view Woolwich, or how you view Muslim people, or black people. You can choose whether you look for the extraordinary acts of human bravery and courage, and see the strength in our humanity. Or you can choose to use it to stir up hatred, and fear.
I am sure that most of you have seen the news, or have spoken to people about it, but in case anyone hasn’t, I’m going to tell you the basic facts. Two men attacked a soldier in Woolwich, just round the corner from here, yesterday afternoon. The soldier had got out of his car to try and help with a car crash, and the two men attacked him with very large knives, killing him. Members of the public were all around, so there are lots of photos and videos of this. And I’d urge you to think very hard about whether you want to watch those videos. Once you’ve seen that kind of thing you can’t un-see it. I haven’t watched it. I don’t want those images in my head. It is a terrifying thing to have happened five minutes away from our school, or perhaps even closer to your own houses. And it’s very, very sad – for the people who knew the soldier, and for those who knew the attackers, and for everyone, really.
But as I said – I want to talk to you about how we choose to act, and think, when faced with terrifying and heartbreakingly sad events.
We have talked before in assembly about some extraordinary acts of humanity.
We talked about the bombings at the Boston Marathon, and I told you about the people running the marathon who ran over the finish line, and kept on running, towards the hospital, to give blood, because they knew it would be needed.
We talked about the Oklahoma tornado, and the stories of normal people who worked alongside the police and fire department to rescue complete strangers. We talked about the father who left his own children outside a school to run back in, to help other people's children, that he didn't know.
And now that we have a tragedy in our own community, I want to talk about an act of extraordinary courage shown by a lady in Woolwich.
This woman is a mum. She runs a scout troup after school. And she was there when it happened. She saw a body on the ground, and her first thought was to run towards it, to see if she could help. We have a very natural, very normal instinct to run away from danger, and nobody would have judged her if that was what she had done. If she'd run as far and as fast as she could, towards safety, towards her own family. But she didn't. She ran towards the danger, because of another very natural, very normal instinct: the instinct to help another human.
When she got to the man she realised it was too late, that he was already dead, and she couldn't help him. But still she didn't run away. She walked towards the man with the knife, and blood all over him. And she spoke to him. She tried to calm him down, and stop him from hurting anyone else.
What an amazing act of humanity. What extraordinary bravery.
Yes - this has been a tragedy. It's scary, and it's so very sad. But you can also choose to see this - to see bravery, and courage, and love for all humanity. To recognise that basic human instinct, to protect each other from danger.
You can choose to see it like this man on twitter did:
But unfortunately, that is not what everyone chose to see. The media chose to see terror, and fear, and to focus in on how this was an act committed by Muslim men. They didn't think about the power they had. They didn't think about how their words would be read by thousands of people. How their words had the power to change how people see Woolwich, or how they see Muslims.
They thought about how to sell more papers, and they chose to do this:
You've studied journalism in English, and you know about media sensationalism. You know how to read the papers with a critical eye. You know how to think carefully about what you're being told, but also about what you're not being told. You know how important it is that you think for yourselves. Remember this, when you're reading the papers over the next few days.
But it isn't just the mainstream media. Some people on social media, like twitter and facebook, chose to make comments about "typical Woolwich". They chose to blame Islam, and draw conclusions about all Muslims. Throughout history people have committed atrocities in the name of religion, atrocities that disgust and horrify many members of that religion. Not many Christians recognise their religion, or their God, in the despicable acts of the Klu Klux Klan. Not many Muslims recognise their religion, or their God, in the act of these two individuals.
But of course, you can choose for yourself. You can choose to see this as an act of terror, as the start of a war, as a reason to be afraid of Woolwich, and afraid of other people in other communities. Or you can choose to think for yourself. Think about the Woolwich you know. Think about our local heritage day in Woolwich, where we walked around all day, enjoying the history and the multiculturalism, and when we were all completely safe. Think about the Muslims you know, Muslim members of our school community, who are disgusted that anyone would do this in the name of their religion.
Think for yourself about why the media chose to do this. Think for yourself about how you choose to feel about Woolwich, and about all the different people who live here.
You can choose to react like these people did on twitter.
You can choose to react like this privately, or in public. You can choose to share your reactions, in the hope that your words, too, could have power. You can choose to share the way that you see things, in the hope that others will be able to see it that way, too. Like this person on twitter:
Or you can choose to use the power of your words to stir up hatred, and encourage others to join you in that hatred.
This is a photograph of the EDL last night - the English Defence League - an Islamophobic group, who believe that all Muslims are violent, and that they shoudn't have the right to practice their religion in the same way as other people. They chose to put on masks so nobody could see their face, and to go out in this large, intimidating group, and march around the streets of Woowlich. They chose to distract the police from investigating the crime, so they had to waste time policing this riot. They chose to try to make people in our community more afraid.
Personally, I choose this:
I started here, and I'll finish here. With this thought, from this man on twitter called Simon, who I don't know, and who I'll probably never meet. Because it sums up so beautifully how I want to see the world. These men didn't act for all Muslims, and they didn't act for all of Woolwich. They just acted for themselves.
We can choose what we do now. We can choose how we feel, and we can choose what we think. And in doing so, hopefully we will help define Woolwich more positively.
Pupils' reflections after the assembly:
After the assembly I explained that I would be going to lay flowers at the scene, and write in the commemoration book at the Town Hall on behalf of the school. I gave pupils a post it note so that they could write a message of condolence, which I would include, or any other thought that they wanted to share. Here are some of their reflections: