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Aussie terror bomb survivor fights for peace

Gill Hicks was running late for work when the terrorist bomb hit her London underground train – changing her life forever.

Hicks lost both her legs in the London 7/7 bombing ten years ago, which killed 52 people in the largest terror attack on British soil. She also lost 75 per cent of her blood, with doctors thinking she would die.

Now aged 46, the Australian-born mother refuses to let it get her down. In fact, she has become a fierce fighter against terrorism through her organisation, MAD (Making a Difference) For Peace.

MAD For Peace works with community groups in the United Kingdom and Australia, meeting people who have become radicalised and aiming to change their perspectives on extremism and terrorism.

“Everything has changed for me since becoming a survivor of a terrorist attack. My purpose, my focus, the core of all I do is based on finding new and impactful ways to communicate the urgency for the building of a sustainable peace."

– Gill Hicks, London 7/7 bomb survivor

Everything has changed for me since becoming a survivor of a terrorist attack, but my whole purpose now is to doing all I can do to prevent anyone following the path of extremism and violent extremism,” said Dr Hicks, who is now a motivational speaker and designer.

Hicks firmly believes that young people choose the path of extremism because extremist groups offer them a sense of “purpose and honour”.

“I have come to understand that the roots to this path lay in the desire and passion to devote their life to making a difference – that the seductive and alluring messaging and communication from extremist groups offer purpose and honour,” she said.

“These are things that seem to be the most attractive to the ever-changing profile of an extremist and a violent extremist.”

Extremists are motivated by a desire to change the world through violence, where innocent citizens are seen as legitimate targets, and where their own lives can be sacrificed to the cause. But according to Hicks, if you want to make a real difference in the world, then you should be alive to see the effects of your actions on those around you.

“As Gandhi was quoted as saying ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’. My words are similar. If you want to make a real difference, then firstly be alive to see the benefit of what your single life can bring.

“The 19-year-old [London] bomber who took his life while trying to kill and maim as many other people as possible acted with ignorance. If he was alive today, I would urge him to see that the taking of innocent life, indeed the taking of my legs, has not helped the cause he believed he was making a difference for.

“In fact, his actions and those who follow the path of violent extremism are creating a greater harm.”

Hicks feels that some of Australia’s recent responses to violent extremism are a positive sign of a changing approach.

“Extremists are under the grip of complete belief that their understanding of the cause they represent is right and that their actions are righteous,” she said.

“Under the new Prime Minister, I believe there are foundations upon which ‘we’ can lead in both prevention of violent extremism and the promotion of closer communities and societies.”

And Australia is capable of leading the way in countering violent extremism, she feels.

“Australia has never seen war on its soil nor had to fight internal conflicts between borders – this makes our position unique and I believe offers the foundation upon which ‘we’ can lead in both prevention of violent extremism and the promotion of closer communities and societies.”

Her dedication to spreading messages of peace and understanding is inspirational.

A year after the London bombings, Hicks returned to the suburb where her attackers lived, saying it was important to visit the local community and to set a positive example of community cohesion.

“I have had a long relationship with the area that three of the four suicide bombers came from. In 2007, I walked from Leeds in the north of the UK down to London – more than 500 kms and a month on the road! This project was created in partnership with the community leaders from Beeston.”

 

Hicks is determined to continue use her experiences and her powerful voice to motivate others to change their position on extremism.

She said the broader impact of violent extremism was a sense of fear that it ferments within communities.

“Fear can lead to division within communities – the dangers of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are what we all must strive to safeguard against,” she says.

Now a mother of toddler aged two and a half, Hicks believes that together as a society we can all advocate for a change and support communities with troubled young people.

“My understanding of the world is far more focused on narrowing division within communities and promoting the commonalities of humanity rather than difference,” she said. 

(Header image courtesy of www.gilltalks.com)

The Point

Gill Hicks was running late for work when the terrorist bomb hit her London underground train – changing her life forever. Now she works with former violent extremists to build a more peaceful world.

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