Today is the first anniversary of the London bombing. This time last year, in the middle of the morning rush hour, bombs went off in three separate tube trains, and the number 30 bus was blown apart near Tavistock Square. 52 people died as a result of these attacks, and hundreds more were injured. To my mind it is entirely appropriate that we pause for a moment today and remember them.
What I can’t stand though is the air of mawkishness that seems to have swept the nation. Ever since Diana died, we seem to have leapt upon every opportunity for a spot of mass communal grieving. There was a guy on the radio this morning whose wife had died in the bus bombing. He was naturally devastated, all the more so because she had only got on the bus at his suggestions when she had been unable to get to work via the underground. Both were unaware of the tube bombings because of the initial media blackout. As well as blaming himself, this man also laid some responsibility at the door of the government and the emergency services. If they had known about the attacks, he argued, she would never have been on that bus. Perhaps so, but perhaps she would have been trampled to death in the panic that such an announcement would have caused in rush hour London. He went on to say that he could remember every single detail of that day and could remember nothing since. I’m sympathetic to his loss and I’m not trying to sound heartless, but at what point did his grieving turn into melodrama?
Some police bigwig was up next. He expressed his sorrow at the losses people suffered a year ago and suggested that the people who had carried out these attacks were “beyond criminal”. What does that mean exactly? That these bombers were somehow in a different category to the Kray twins? The Krays were brutal killers too, but the fact that they loved their dear old mum makes them a different class of killer to apparently motiveless British Asian youths with homemade bombs in their backpacks? The presenter asked the policeman about the shooting of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube Station last July and the recent shooting of a supposed terrorist suspect at Forest Gate in London. Of course, both shootings were unfortunate incidents, and the police are very sorry for their mistakes…. But somehow this policeman still managed to insinuate that the end justifies the means. These tactics will stop future terrorist attacks, and if a few innocent people get shot in the meantime, well, that’s a price we have to pay if we want to stay safe.
Stay safe from who? I think it’s fair to say that it makes little difference to Jean Charles de Menezes if he is killed by a terrorist or by a policeman. He’s still dead.
I don’t think it is a price worth paying.
And then I heard Marie Fatayi-Williams being interviewed. Her son Anthony was also killed in the bus bombing, but instead of seeking recriminations or looking to assign blame, this lady spoke eloquently of how she had come to terms with the loss of her son with the help of her faith, how she had been able to forgive the men who took her son from her because she understood that if she did not, then the hate could consume her. It was inspiring to listen to her talk. In her own softly spoken way, this lady is a beacon of hope and an example of how a civilised society should be responding to events like these. This is not the first time that Marie Fatayi-Williams has been interviewed and you may have heard her speaking before: in the immediate aftermath of the attacks and when her son was still missing, she made this speech to the assembled press, clutching a photo of her son:
“This is Anthony, Anthony Fatayi -Williams, 26 years old, he's missing and we fear that he was in the bus explosion ... on Thursday. We don't know. We do know from the witnesses that he left the Northern line in Euston. We know he made a call to his office at Amec at 9.41 from the NW1 area to say he could not make [it] by the tube but he would find alternative means to work.
Since then he has not made any contact with any single person. Now New York, now Madrid, now London. There has been widespread slaughter of innocent people. There have been streams of tears, innocent tears. There have been rivers of blood, innocent blood. Death in the morning, people going to find their livelihood, death in the noontime on the highways and streets.
They are not warriors. Which cause has been served? Certainly not the cause of God, not the cause of Allah because God Almighty only gives life and is full of mercy. Anyone who has been misled, or is being misled to believe that by killing innocent people he or she is serving God should think again because it's not true. Terrorism is not the way, terrorism is not the way. It doesn't beget peace. We can't deliver peace by terrorism, never can we deliver peace by killing people. Throughout history, those people who have changed the world have done so without violence, they have [won] people to their cause through peaceful protest. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, their discipline, their self-sacrifice, their conviction made people turn towards them, to follow them. What inspiration can senseless slaughter provide? Death and destruction of young people in their prime as well as old and helpless can never be the foundations for building society."
(the whole of this speech can be found here)
We can’t deliver peace by killing people. Death and destruction of young people in their prime as well as old and helpless can never be the foundations for building society. These are points that Tony Blair may like to consider the next time he pores over his despatches from Iraq or when he considers sending more troops to Afghanistan or when he turns a blind eye to the Americans at Guantanamo Bay. Charles Clarke may be able to pretend that he doesn’t understand why some British Asians are becoming radicalised enough to become suicide bombers (as he was doing this morning), but he’s not fooling me.