Last week, Spaniard Javier Martínez surprised the world when he hugged the imam of the town of Rubí (Catalonia), Dris Salym, only days after his 3-year-old son Xavi was killed in a jihadi terror attack in Barcelona.

The gesture of peace and unity was both very human and very controversial.

Reporter Manuel Arenas, who works for the newspaper El Periódico, spoke to Mr. Martínez shortly after the terror attacks and described the interview as "the most difficult thing I have ever done". On Monday, Mr. Arenas published a thread on Twitter explaining more about why Xavi's dad hugged the imam:

  1. Today has been one week since I first spoke to Javier, Xavi's dad. I have read all sorts of explanations. But why did he hug the imam of Rubí? Here's a thread;
  2. The first time I spoke to Javier, by phone, was on August 23. He mentioned the possibility of hugging the imam;
  3. He hadn't told anyone else, and he wasn't sure how he was going to do it: if he'd do it in public, in private, with the media present or without;
  4. None of that bothered him much, to the degree that he talked about it as something he would improvise: he'd just go out and find the imam;
  5. Then things got complicated because local bureaucracy meant the hug would coincide with the [memorial] gathering scheduled in Rubí for the 24th;
  6. His aim was just to materialise a sense of responsibility: Javier didn't want that death to be in vain;
  7. He felt he owed a debt to his son, and another to society. He told me during the interview: "I want my son's death to mean something".
  8. I know he wasn't looking for the attention: neither he nor his family thought the photos were a great idea, but felt it necessary to make the gesture in public.
  9. It was his way of avenging Xavi: projecting the idea of fraternity, peace and coexistence with something as ordinary as a hug;
  10. It was something he could do. He didn't want the death of his son to be just one more [death], but something that brought together a society broken by terror;
  11. That gesture became a photo on the front page of @elperiodico, a photo by Jordi Cotrina that, according to [Spanish TV presenter] @jordievole "reconciles you with everything";
  12. Others criticised him because "as well as killing us, we hug them"—a shocking generalisation—or for being a "do-gooder" or for his "theatrics";
  13. I have read [messages by] journalists rudely ridiculing the gesture: those who joke about the relative of a victim are heartless;
  14. Xavi's death generated a duty: showing us all was not lost. And not just that: it was also to show that to himself;
  15. His "I need to hug a Muslim" or his "I share the pain with the terrorists' relatives" are him thinking out loud;
  16. Javier needed to know people would read this: he cares about those who are still alive and he searched for a symbol to make us believe in something;
  17. Javier Martínez has been hit badly, and that will last his whole life, but he would have acted in the same way over time;
  18. His intention was to honour Xavi as the child who brought us together, as the child who helped to differentiate terrorists from humans;
  19. I hope all those who have laughed at him and insulted him do not forget that he is also a victim of Islamic terrorism;
  20. And I hope what happened to him never happens to them; who knows how they would react. I believe his dignity is within reach of very few people;
  21. And if they had seen him face-to-face, if they had seen his face, perhaps they would understand. But it is much easier to shout from [a position] of ignorance. End.