Over the last couple of days I’ve written a few posts about the nature of London and why the bombings last week cannot be viewed in the same way, or will generate the same response, as 9/11 in New York. In particular, I’ve made reference to the fact that London is heavily populated by people from other countries, quite a few of them from Muslim countries. I’ve also expressed my belief that all that bullshit about the London Blitz spirit is just so much nonsense.
Let’s be honest here. The majority of people went back to work on Friday not because they were infused with any heroic qualities. They went to work so they would be paid. They were scared but played the odds that an attack wouldn’t be repeated the following day. There’s nothing wrong with that but eulogising people for coming in by train to update their spreadsheets or do some cold calling is pushing the envelope a little.
Hang on though. Maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, the US Air Force instructed its UK based personal not to travel through or to London in the days after the attacks. So, it would seem that London office workers were facing risks that the US military weren’t prepared to expose their bomber pilots to.
Hmmm, for some lateral reason that reminds me of that old joke that gets resurrected every time we go to war next to America and the USAF is involved:
Q. What’s the difference between an Iraqi tank and a British tank?
A. The British tank doesn’t usually fire back when you bomb itAnyway, back to the point. There are many more people in this city with direct experience of 3rd world hurricanes, earthquakes and famines than German bombing 65 years ago. And many of the people currently living in London haven’t been here long enough to be in any way imbued with the ‘traditional London spirit’, be it real or imagined.
London is the World. I, and some others, mourn the passing of the old London and its people but it’s gone now and we have to live with it.
As it happens, we’ve done surprisingly well. Admittedly, the majority of people in this city still live unenviable lives by the standards of the comfortable middle class people who prattle on about London’s vibrancy and diversity, whilst living a safe distance away from it. However, compared to any other place on Earth I can think of, London has done a remarkable job of accommodating a baffling array of people from different religions and cultures, without too much in the way of racial or cultural tension. I'm not saying 'no' tension, just 'surprisingly little' given the speed and diversity of the change we've experienced.
Not that you could tell from some of the coverage in our media. As I mentioned previously, two of the bombs exploded in exceptionally Muslim parts of town. You would not have noticed from the skin colour of people being interviewed at the scenes. And, in the days since then, Muslim Londoners have been treated in the media as if they are somehow incidental to London life and not integral, as they really are. Many of the supposedly ordinary Londoners actually being interviewed are not Londoners in any meaningful sense of the word. They come from the suburbs and beyond. They're the peripheral ones - buffered as they are from much of the daily reality of the city, as they commute in from the furthest reaches of the underground or mainline railways.
What’s my point?
London itself is an astonishingly diverse place, recently made to look deceptively whiter and more Anglo-Saxon by selective media coverage. Most of the people here in this city are not my kin or even kin to each other. They share little racial, cultural or religious background. If there’s any one thing that unites them, it’s the fact that the majority accept, to one degree or another, that they will be sharing a city with people with whom they have little in common.
A consequence of all of this is that half of us are more culturally aware because we come from another culture and the other half of us are more culturally aware because we’ve got accustomed to having so many different people in our faces all the time.
And that’s the biggest difference between 911 and 77. Our first reaction was not to lash out and nuke a few A-rabs or ragheads. Many of us are Muslim and many of the rest have at least some idea of what Muslims are all about. Sadly, the bombings probably will enable our government to steal more of our rights and liberties but there are limits to what they can get away with, in this city anyway. Maybe if we’d lost as many people as died on 911 things would be different, but even then I don’t think war would have been your average 'Londoner’s' first reaction.
We saw a truly remarkable two-minute silence today. Most of the city and much of the country stood still and quiet with an impressive intensity.
And hats off to our mayor, Ken Livingstone. Ordinarily, I find it difficult to consider him any more than one seriously slimy son of a bitch. However, I believe the emotion that he has shown over the last week to be genuine and the words he has spoken in defiance of those who would set different races at each other’s throats well-placed. I expect no such sensitivity or restraint from Blair or Bush. They’ll attempt to hijack today’s expression of solidarity and defiance in support of their own revolting agenda as soon as they think they can get away with it, and not one second later.
I’m not claiming that the attitude of people in London is perfectly culturally aware, far from it. And I’m not criticising the sentiment behind today’s silence but one thought did come to my mind…
Given that, for reasons previously stated, most of the people who died in the bombings were in not my close kin, I feel no more, or less, sorrow for them and their families than, say, those 23 Iraqi children blown to bits in Baghdad yesterday. Iraq endures its own "77" every couple of days. When is the World going to stand in silence in commemoration of all those stolen lives? Would someone like to tell me what the difference is?
For all of London's multicultural correctness, one of 'ours' still seems to be worth more than fifty of 'theirs'.
(PS Someone has come back on this posting and pulled me up for implying that New York is not diverse, or in some way xenophobic. Even though that wasn't the intention that may be coming through - I've been eloquently put in my place by way of comment. The gist of the comment seems to be that New York's very real pain was hijacked by very un New York forces to justify a war. That's clearly true. Of course New York is diverse. However, that diversity was not fully represented in the aftermath of 911. At the moment London's is - I'll take Livingstone's words after '77' over Giuliani's after "911" any day. So even though I feel a little chastened, and rightly so, I'm also gratified that at least one person made it to the end of one of my posts :) )