On 19 December 2016 a truck crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing several and injuring many. Until now, few details about the motivations behind and background to this terrible incident have emerged, but all available information points to a senseless criminal act. After all the tragedies we have witnessed in Europe in recent times, notably in Paris, Brussels and Nice, terrorists are once again attacking our society by killing and injuring innocents. These events leave us speechless, horrified yet furious. We mourn and pray for the victims while feeling profound sympathy for their devastated friends and relatives.

Berlin at Night, photographed by ESA astronaut André Kuipers from the International Space Station (ISS). Image: ESA.

Berlin at Night, photographed by ESA astronaut André Kuipers from the International
Space Station (ISS). Image: ESA.

This is intended as a challenge to our open and free society and we must employ a degree of caution as we respond: we should not, for example, give the attackers the power to change the freedoms we are so fortunate to enjoy into a world of restrictions, mistrust, fear and “magic solutions”. I know very well that it is far easier to write this than to achieve it. And I also know that we have to accept certain additional measures as we attempt to ensure we can live our daily lives in safety. At the same time, it is of the utmost importance that we remain open and foster the spirit of a free society with individual rights very much at its core.

To balance the inevitable increased security measures with the preservation of individual freedoms is one of the great political challenges of today. And we as citizens must not stand back passively watching, complaining and suspecting others but instead must work proactively for the future. This means, on a personal level, making clear to friends, colleagues and those we meet that we will not abandon our values but, on the contrary, that we will do everything in our power to strengthen those human values that seek to transcend nationality, religion, and cultural background.

If this blue dot in the Universe that we call home and all the people on it deserve one thing it is that we take every possible action to make life on Earth worth living.

Once again, with great sadness, let me extend my deepest, heartfelt sympathies to the friends and families of the victims of this awful tragedy.