A real display of human solidarity
spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London).
At first we all assumed that it was just another breakdown on the Tube, an everyday problem of commuting in London.
My overground train from Walthamstow arrived at Liverpool Street just after the first bomb went off yesterday morning. By the time I reached the entrance to the Underground the steel doors were shut, alarms and sirens were going off and the police were shepherding everybody out of the station. The first report was that a single explosion had been caused by a power surge. It did not take long to realise that we were dealing with something far more sinister than an electrical fault.
Thinking about it later, however, it occurred to me that maybe that is how we should see the threat of this sort of terrorism in London today – as a problem of everyday life that we just have to cope with and carry on. I certainly do not mean to suggest that we should be defeatist. On the contrary: if we accept that the terrorist threat is now normal, we can minimise its negative impact on our city and our normal lives.
Millions of people in London will have their own near-miss stories about July 7; mine was that I decided against running for the earlier train that would have got me to Liverpool Street just before the bombs started. But this morning, public transport allowing, millions of us will have had to get up and go back to work.
If many were proud of London for winning the Olympics on Wednesday, I was much more so yesterday. There was no panic on the streets amid all of the confusion, no sense of despair despite the chaos. People were getting on with it, walking to work or back towards home, on the mobile making arrangements for their children and checking that everybody else was all right. It was the sort of resilience that gives you renewed faith in humanity and reveals that, despite all the fashionable worries about trauma and damage in our therapeutic society, we do have the inner strength to face adversity.
After the many rather artificial and staged displays of human solidarity we have witnessed over the past week, London yesterday showcased the real thing. Typically, those in the eye of the storm – commuters, emergency services and transport staff – had the steadiest nerves. The panic and the tears tended to come from loved ones further away, on the other end of the telephone.
Watching the Prime Minister’s first response on a screen in my office, this old cynic had to concede that he too struck just the right tone of resolution, a striking contrast with President Bush’s uncertain reaction to September 11. Mr Blair was surely also right calmly to announce that he was leaving the G8 summit at Gleneagles to return to London – a welcome change of tone from his Government’s more panic-mongering policies, such as the crazy plan to flee the capital in the event of a big terrorist attack.
Those bombs on London trains and buses confirm that we are dealing with a new brand of terrorism. The IRA never attempted to blow up the Underground without warning at the height of the rush hour. Its bombing campaigns, though ruthless, were seen as a means to a political end, and usually targeted accordingly. But the new school of bombers have no political end worthy of the name. Their terrorism is an end in itself, their only aim to strike fear into our hearts. Were we to react too fearfully or adopt panic measures, it would only invite more of the same, along with an outburst of threats and hoaxes from any nutter with a grudge. That is why it is so important that we get back on those trains and back to normal, wary but not scared of our own shadows.
The BBC reported yesterday that, on major roads leading into the capital, signs were displayed warning motorists: ‘Avoid London. Area closed. Turn on radio.’ Perhaps that seemed sensible as an immediate response to the scenes of death and destruction in the city centre. But as a message to the world, it would be disastrous. Do not avoid London. Our city is open. It is open to the peoples of the world, the most vibrant and tolerant of European capitals. Of course, this means that it may also be open to a few nihilistic murderers. That is a fact of life in a city such as London today. And while we would far rather not have to live alongside the madmen, many of us still would not want to live anywhere else.
Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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