I had only been in the UK 24 hours when I heard about the Westminster attack. I had just spent 3 weeks in Iraq and Iran.
This is one of the stories I wanted to share with you all on my return. It seems more poignant now. Not to diminish the horrific attack in London, but to encourage us to have perspective and to extend our humanity to all.
Shortly after leaving Najaf Airport towards Karbala, we stopped at one of the few "Hussainiya" open out of season. These are small commemoration halls where you can pray, or more traditionally where you hold mourning ceremonies.
During "Arbaeen" - the largest annual peaceful gathering in the world - mourners walk the route from Najaf to Karbala (about 80km) which is completely lined with these "Hussainiya".
They walk to the location where the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, alongside his family and his friends (from 6 months old to 75 years old) were beheaded by the tyrannical (and Muslim) leader of the time.
They walk this route to reaffirm their stance against oppression, extremism and tyranny.
Yes, the largest annual peaceful gathering in the world, is by Muslims, standing against those who terrorise, oppress and behead others.
Out of season most of these Hussainiya are closed.
This one was open. For a tragic reason.
This man is an Iraqi Turkmen from Mosul. His 3 sons were killed by ISIS there. The remaining family - including his dead son's children - fled to the family Hussainiya in Najaf where they now all live.
We should have been helping them but instead they were serving us tea. The children - whose fathers have been killed by ISIS - served us "ka'ak" (cake) and smiled at me shyly and said "hello". The youngest had only just learned to walk.
My first few hours in Iraq made me feel that war is never far away, but neither is hospitality.
These are a people who have lived under a dictatorship propped up by our money, then under the barrage of our bombs. They are the ones who have to live with the risk of their fathers and sons being bombed or beheaded. Every single day.
We must learn to acknowledge, from the bottom of our hearts, that actually, it is mostly Muslims and those of us not in the West, who bare the brunt of ISIS brutality, and in this way we can inoculate ourselves from the vicious cycle that, at its essence, demonises the victims.
Truly that is also a form of oppression. Truly that is an agenda that will only create and promote more violence and will never seek nor find peace.
The double-standard hit home to me, when Facebook asked me to "check in" as safe on the day of the Westminster Attack. When I was in Iraq I passed through hundreds of security check points in Iraq just to get from A to B. I saw hundreds of homes destroyed by ISIS. I then travelled through Iran, a country surrounded and threatened by war every day. I read about dozens killed just miles away from where I sat.
Yet 24 hours after landing in London, after one (horrible) incident here, Facebook wanted to make sure I am safe. That irony cannot be lost on us. I'm safe. We are safe here. Lets worry more about where people are not safe. Every day. Where hundreds die. Every day. They have Facebook too. Family too. They matter too