Nothing to fear but fear itself?

It’s taken five days of reflection before I really felt able to comment on the London transport bombings. Since then I have read acres of coverage in a range of papers. From the profound people-stories in commuters’ paper ‘Metro’, to the analysis and gravitas of the Times, Telegraph, Guardian and Observer. Never before can I recall a time when our capital has, in ten hours, gone from such exultant revelry to profound despair. I’ve saved the sequence of papers from those three days last week: The prelude to an Olympic decision and G8 on Wednesday, the triumphant headlines of Thursday morning and the first reflections on Friday.
The clamour for news on Thursday morning appeared to be painfully slow. Our web connection at work crumbled, we were asked to restrict use to ‘business critical’ (woefully unrealistic). In light of this I switched, as I had done the day before, to Five Live and found myself frustrated by the lack of information. On reflection it’s clear that this was a well managed drip-feed of information to suppress panic and to ensure that the necessary movement of resources and strategy could be achieved. Whilst the first reports were of eye witness accounts and mobile phone pictures/footage the following days brought the most moving tales of individuals euphemistically and optimistically referred to as ‘missing’. This pictoral roll-call, profoundly reflective of London’s socioeconomic DNA, was juxtaposed with grainy pictures captured from phones all purporting to show the ‘moments after’ without much sense of a moral obligation to allow families to begin to grieve [It is in fact interesting to note the need for journalistic control on this unsolicited material]
What these days also brought with them was a raft of survivor stories and David Aaronovitch in the Times deftly commented on our perverse and guilt-laden need to link ourselves in some small part to the tragedy. These ‘could have been’ vignettes seemed to punctuate conversations about the events … “a mate of mine was evacuated”, “I normally catch that train”, “my sister works round the corner”. In some way these are our attempts to form a solidarity and bond with the victims, to announce: “An attack on you is an attack on all of us”.
Though the war in Iraq has undoubtedly exacerbated the worsening perception of Britain in the Muslim fundamentalist world it cannot be the only justification for this event. If Iraq was the reason here, what was the reason for Bali before the march on Baghdad? Afghanistan perhaps? Well, September 11th pre-dated the fall of Kabul, what justified that attack in the West? There are no simple answers and the worsening crisis against a faceless, nameless enemy with a non-specific agenda leaves London and cities like it even more prone to these indiscriminate attacks. Many politicians, public figures and, sadly, celebrities have rushed to echo the legions of bloggers and letter-writers in proclaiming London’s indefatigable spirit. All at once failing to identify that London today represents little of London in the Blitz. The stoicism and humour at facing the Luftwaffe was borne of a less ethnically diverse population who knew the enemy they faced and could, in part prepare for their raids. Furthermore, the London that faced Irish terrorism was one that knew the Republican agenda, that pre-supposed there would be an accented warning and that, predominantly, the payload’s target was stone, steel and glass. No one doubts that people are resilient to these events, but it’s not some dormant wartime spirit conjured up from dusty east-end Anderson shelters.
It’s all well and good for people to defiantly recommend we rejoin the tube and hop on board the friendly red bus, but for many of these taxi-using figures, the feeling of descending into the tube, sitting in a carriage or next to a rucksack-wearing passenger, is one they’ll avoid experiencing. As I travel through the regions, employed outside the capital, I cannot begin to imagine a time when I will travel to London without considering those terrible moments but I can read the papers and hope that so many of those who work in London can and will begin to find some normality again.

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