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A MESSAGE FROM LONDON

The award of the 2012 Olympics to London was largely because the city was seen as a place where people from all over the world could live, work and play together in safety.

Then, the morning after the announcement, Londoners like myself were brutally reminded that there are those to whom the very idea of people from all over the world living and working and playing together is hateful.

The bombers, whoever they are, are senselessly callous and cruel. But I have met many people in my life who see tolerance as weakness, ignorance as strength and compassion as something reserved for true believers. And only a few of them were Muslim.

For better or worse I, and my parents and generations before me, have lived in a society which has thrived on change, encouraged scientific enquiry and believed in the ideal of progress. As a result we have a world of sometimes almost reckless modernity in which some people feel left behind, or worse still, trampled on by those rushing to get more of what our technological society can create.

But we canít change now. We canít de-invent what weíve invented. We canít not try to understand what is new and interesting. We canít censor our thoughts. So we will continue to incur the wrath of those who believe that minds and bodies should be controlled, if necessary by force.

Our best weapon against this destructive bigotry is the freedom and tolerance weíve acquired, not without pain and difficulty, over hundreds of years. It demands that we avoid condemning without reason or evidence. That we relish diversity and understand non-conformity without demonising it.

That we never assume our way of life is better just because we have more money and more things. Some of the poorest people Iíve met on my travels have been the most open, hospitable, inventive. And though their resources are scarce they know how to look after them and paradoxically are often more in control of their lives than any millionaire hiding in a gated community.

If we believe our ďway of lifeĒ is best then we must prove it, not by bullying or bragging, but by showing the intelligence that lifetimes of hard won liberties have bought for us. One of the greatest tests of this intelligence is understanding how others feel. To understand the world we donít need anything hi-tech, we need the brain to comprehend and appreciate the universal feelings that we share with others, whatever our creed or colour. We can only fight closed minds with open minds.

Real progress is something that happens in your head.

I suppose what Iím saying is listen, learn, read, travel, argue but donít live in gated communities. Whatever, I'll be using the London Underground as usual this week. Itís a vital part of a very vital city. And a vital part of looking, listening, learning, and meeting the rest of the world.

Michael Palin. London July 11th.