Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Calling
I awoke today to the news that my most beloved place in the world, the city I still consider home, has been the victim of a coordinated bombing attack, most probably by Al Quaeda. No matter how hard I try, I can't find the words to express how angry and sad I am right now. How could they do this? This is madness. 1 in every 7 Londoners is a Muslim. What kind of sociopathy does it take to kill your own people and then claim that you're doing it for them?
Part of the reason this seems so colossaly unfair, so completely without reason, is that London is the most diverse city in the world. Look at the Guardian ethnic map from a few months ago - there are at least 135 different languages spoken in London. The city shelters multiple well established ethnic communities. In the time I spent there I lived along side Cameroonians, Muslims and Irishmen in Finsbury Park, Egyptians in Richmond, a rich diversity of Arabs in Edgware Road, people from every African nation you can imagine in Brixton, Japanese college students in Camden, and Indians and Pakistanis in the East End. One of my college professors got it right when he described London as not so much a melting pot as a salad bowl - all the ingredients live harmoniously side by side and complement each other beautifully, while none of them ever lose their unique flavour, or are ever expected to. It's a perfect metaphor for a truly unique city.
Reading the coverage in The Guardian, you can't help but be struck by London's diversity. Just look at the names of the eyewitnesses and you'll see people from every continent on earth. If the lunatics who run Al Quaeda wanted to punish the British for colonialism this was a very poor way to go about it. There are simply too many people affected who had nothing to do with colonialism at all. Look at the middle aged Jamaican woman wrapped in a blanket crying in one of the shots they keep showing on CNN - what the hell does she have to do with colonialism? Why should she pay the price?
You know what really pisses me off about this, what makes it perfectly clear how little these people really care about other Muslims? They hit Edgware Road. For those of you who've never lived in the capital, Edgware Road cuts through the city from the West End, starting at Marble Arch, and goes all the way out of the city. The stretch of Edgware Road starting at the tube station and running for at least a couple of miles is mostly composed of Arab businesses, such as hardware stores and groceries and so on. Walk down the street and you'll see old Egyptian men sitting in the back of their stores smoking Hukkah pipes and playing backgammon or cards. Edgware Road tube, which was one of the stations targeted, sits directly next to one of the most establised Muslim sections of the city. What kind of hypocrisy does it take to target this neighborhood and claim that you're doing it in the name of Islam?
From what I can see this attack was designed to cripple the capital's infrastructure rather than to inflict maximum casualties. If you look at the stations hit, they were well spaced out in such a way as to bring the entire transit system down. Which also tells me that an insider planned this. Someone who knows London, who understands the traffic flow during rush hour. Whis also proves once again, for those morons who keep talking about restricting immigration, that it wouldn't have made any difference. This was done by someone who's been in London for a while.
The odd thing is that there's almost a sense of relief from most Londoners I've spoken to. Everyone knew that something like this was going to happen sooner or later, and most people are just glad that there weren't more casualties. The city has an excellent public health infrastructure, so the wounded are being well attended to. In a moment of strange irony, the bus that was attacked was directly in front of the headquarters of the British Medical Association when the bomb blew, so a whole building full of doctors ran out to help tend the wounded. In general people are just quietly coping and getting on with their lives, and there was remarkably little panic. If whoever planned this thought that they could reduce the city of London to hysteria they seriously underestimated us. Anyone who's lived in London for any length of time has lived under constant threat of IRA bombings. It's part of living in the city, and you adjust to it. There are also still many people who lived through the Blitz, and this certainly isn't going to reduce them to panic.
Tony Blair has a lot to answer for here. It was his decision to drag Britain into a war that we had no reason to be involved in that led to this attack. If there's anything positive that might come out of this, it's that this might lead to Blair being ousted as leader of the Labour Party. He's allowed his own personal religious convictions to interfere with the way he runs the country, and that is simply unacceptable. It's time for more rational minds to prevail, and Gordon Brown is waiting in the wings. Blair should pay for getting Britain into this mess with his job, and we should have a new leader capable of steering us towards a more intelligent foreign policy.
The overall feeling I'm left with is one of sadness. This is all so completely pointless. Ironically enough though, given that the real target of the anger of many Islamic militants seems to be modernity itself, London is actually a great target. The city represents the modern ideal of multiculturalism in action, and on the whole it works pretty damn well. It stands as living proof that people of all cultures can live together and thrive, and that's an ideal worth standing up for. So, from one displaced Londoner to the idiots that planned this attack - kiss my ass. You're not intimidating us, and you never will. London has faced up to bigger and better than you and never crumbled, and it's not going to crumble now. What is going to happen is that people are going to come together and support each other. We are also not going to turn on our Muslim brethren, which may have been part of what you were hoping for, to radicalise young British Muslims and push them into extremism. Everyone who's ever been lucky enough to spend any time in London knows exactly why our beautiful, vibrant multicultural city is worth preserving, and nothing you can do is ever going to change that.

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