Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.
On the second day of my long-awaited trip to Pakistan in December last year, I woke up to the news of the horrible massacre of school children in Peshawar.
Like most people, I wept for the innocent lost lives, the bereaved families and a once honourable country which has lost its path, becoming mired in ever-more indecent violence and barbarism.
As I made my way home to Brussels a few days into 2015, I was preparing to write about Pegida, Germany’s nascent and very toxic ‘anti-Islamisation’ movement which is making headlines across the globe.
But then tragedy struck again as terrorists, unfortunately and wrongly, described as Islamists gunned down 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the Paris-based satirical magazine.
As France and the world mourned the dead and worried about the freedom of expression, diversity and tolerance, I asked myself: how many tears can you shed? How long and often can you weep? Will the hatred, violence and extremism ever end?
I don’t know the answers but I know that whether we recognise the link or not, Peshawar, Paris and Pegida are, tragically, connected.
I know that money, encouragement and support for the extremists whether in the Middle East, Pakistan, Asia or Europe can be traced to extremist Wahabi state and non-state actors in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
I know that Far Right groups in Europe and the United States are spreading a hysterical and toxic anti-Islam message, gaining traction and popularity as the economic slowdown persists and unemployment continues to rise.
I know that politicians in Europe, the US and the Muslim world are unwilling and unable to rise to the challenge of building a strong counter-narrative of tolerance and discrimination.
I know that 2015 is going to be a defining, testing year for humanity’s ability to live together in peace while accepting differences in religion, colour and culture.
I know that the violence-loving, gun-toting men and (some) women who kill, maim and torture are outside the boundaries of any religion. There is no “Islamic State”, only murderers and criminals. There is no “good” Taliban, just blood-thirsty barbarians.
I know that just as is the case for freedom-loving people in Pakistan, life for Muslims in Europe is going to get tougher in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks.
But I also know that sanity and good sense will probably and hopefully prevail in both Pakistan and Europe.
In the end, it’s not the politicians who will stop the rot. It is the people, the ordinary men, women and young people who say “enough is enough” to violence and intolerance.
I know it is possible. As we visited Lahore only hours before the massacre in Peshawar, girls and boys came up to us to talk and take pictures, giggling and chuckling, proud of Pakistan and their heritage.
The Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort sparkled in the sun but it was the laughter and the cheeky jokes of the young men and women that warmed our souls.
This was Pakistan the way it really is, the way it should always be. Hours later as we tried to come to grips with the tragedy in Peshawar, I took solace in the hope I had seen in the eyes of the young people of Lahore.
In Europe too, it is the people who will stop the continent from descending into a dangerous downward spiral of anti-Muslim sentiment.
True, the Far Right is gaining momentum. Talk of a “clash of civilisations” is rife. But equally those who want a multicultural and tolerant Europe are speaking out.
Pegida gatherings have been dwarfed by massive counter-demonstrations in Dresden, Berlin and Cologne where people have spoken in support of immigrants and condemned intolerance.
The famous Cologne cathedral and Berlin’s Brandenburg gate have switched off lighting as a sign of protest against xenophobic rallies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned against hate and discrimination.
In the aftermath of the Paris killings, European governments will certainly clamp down hard on radicals and would-be terrorists. They are right to do so. But in the medium and long-term, European politicians must also focus on the compelling need to integrate and accept their Muslim citizens.
Retribution and revenge must not be allowed to take centre stage. If it does, it will play into the hands of the extremists.
This is a dangerous moment. Yes, it is war. But it not a conflict between Islam and the West. The battle being fought so cruelly is between people who believe in humanity and criminals and terrorists who, quite simply, want to kill.