The Day that
Changed Everything e,
Londoners, in general, are not known for being faint of heart. Living in a city where the pace of life is frenetic, the energy and dynamism of the metropolis has inevitably rubbed off on its denizens -- to a greater or lesser extent. And you can expect to see pretty much anything on the street - whether it's people dressed strangely (the orange robed Hare Krishna crowd on Oxford Street remain a familiar favourite, as does the guy at Piccadilly Circus holding a placard warning you that the end of the world is nigh…), or sounding strange (pick a language, any language, and you will hear someone speaking it in this modern day Tower of Babel). Or of course, people acting strangely (like the man who sat behind me on the bus, rocking himself back and forth and repeating rhythmically, "I shouldna done it, but I did. I shouldna done it, but I did" -- while the rest of us tried not to think about what he might be referring to!) So it takes a lot to shock most Londoners.
But a week ago, that's just what happened. Out of the blue, a series of carefully co-ordinated, vicious bomb attacks left hundreds of people injured, and dozens dead. These were not military or political targets, but ordinary civilians struck down as they went about their everyday lives - in most cases, heading to work to make a living. As if travelling in the rush hour was not bad enough (I know few people who enjoy the morning commute), they were faced with a nightmare of blood, smoke and death that they will never forget.
For a city which is among the most multicultural in the world and one which has truly allowed a thousand flowers to bloom - by not only taking in immigrants, but allowing their diversity to flourish rather than forcing them into a straitjacket of integration - this has been the cruellest blow. As the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone made it clear, this was an attack against a civilian population, regardless of whether they were Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Hindu, or Jewish; whether they were men, women or children; whether they were elderly, infirm, able-bodied or pregnant. In short, it was a complete disregard for human life, and a refusal to recognise any of the characteristics that defines us as individuals, rather than as a faceless mass of people.
And perhaps that is the very point. For those who commit these atrocities, it might be easier not to think that the consequences of their actions affect real people, rather than some kind of faceless "ideological" enemy. That might force them to realise that any parent who loses a child, anyone who loses a friend, a relative, a loved one, feels a pain that is universal to us all. That pain is no less because you are black or white, man or woman, young or old, Muslim or Christian.
No matter what the ideological aim of such an attack might be, the end result cannot be anything but misery all around. Not only for those directly affected, but for those who have been witness to this day. And not only for those who have survived a terrifying experience, but for all of those who will be afraid to be out living their everyday lives after this.
And if anyone thinks that they are striking some kind of blow against the West, quite apart from the moral and ethical questions this raises, the logic of this argument is severely flawed. For one thing, we live in a global world, and for better or for worse, we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For Muslims and other immigrants to the west, who neither participate in, nor even tacitly support these atrocities, things are not going to get any easier, because they will inevitably pay the price for looking or sounding different in the aftermath of such attacks. Moderate, peace-loving Muslims will be cate gorised in the same way as religious extremists, by those who are scared, as well as those who are racist.
The immediate action taken by the Muslim Council of Britain to condemn the attack is an important step to making the general public realise that the vast majority of Muslims do not support the actions of such extremists. But this will need to be reiterated again and again, particularly by the political leadership of the country. Tony Blair has made a point of stating that such actions should not be accepted as being made in the name of Islam. And the Mayor of London has made clear his view that Londoners, regardless of race and religious affiliation, have been equally targeted and equally devastated by these events. But it remains to be seen whether this message will get through to Joe Public. In the Netherlands, which was long regarded as a bastion of tolerance, the murder of the controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist, led to a backlash where schools and mosques were targeted. Although the UK experience may be different, there needs to be an active attempt to prevent a similar backlash.
Such a reaction would be unlikely to affect only Muslims, anyway. The case of the Sikh taxi driver who was killed in New York in the aftermath of the attacks of September the 11th still resonates with many. Those who killed him, in supposed revenge for those attacks, did not differentiate between his faith and that of the bombers! Similarly, the recent attempts of non-Muslim Asians in the UK to differentiate themselves from Muslims speaks volumes about their faith in the ability of people to recognise the difference between one set of dark-skinned foreigners and another…
Finally, if one is to consider a wider set of global issues, related to the poor, the dispossessed and the often forgotten, this attack is also likely to push their interests further off the agenda. This G-8 summit began with the popular agenda effectively focused on addressing poverty, under-development and trade justice for Africa, as the result of a sustained and high-profile campaign waged by musicians and activists in the lead-up to the summit, which had succeeded in creating an unprecedented level of public awareness regarding these issues through the "Live 8" concerts. Much of the momentum and pressure for global leaders to take action on these issues has now been lost in the horror over events in London, and the inevitable, renewed focus on security.
Who loses because of this? We all do.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005