We were lucky: none of our family and friends that we know of were directly caught up in the bombings in London on Thursday, and I wasn’t in London that day. But I do travel regularly on the tube between King’s Cross and Russell Square and sometimes walk past the BMA building in Tavistock Square, two of the locations of the bombs. So I found myself thinking, that if I’d been really unlucky, it might have been me. Then, like almost everyone who goes to London regularly, I suspect, I realised that life must go on. London is where the jobs are, a lot of the libraries I need to use, the theatres and museums and seminars I want to go to. To stop going to London might make me safer (no-one would think it worth bombing Hitchin), but it would diminish my life. And statistically, it’s still very unlikely that anything would happen to me.
I think the response to the bombings has been impressive, in its calmness and its thoughtfulness. My supervisor was going to a conference that day in Senate House, just near Russell Square. The conference went ahead anyhow: it was on ‘States and Empires’ and thus probably seemed fairly relevant. She said none of her family and friends were directly affected, so maybe she could afford to be more objective, but added that it did make her think about those places where such occurrences are daily events. I was thinking about that too: Baghdad, Jerusalem, Belfast at the height of the troubles. We’re lucky it doesn’t often happen here. And the stoicism of Londoners is noticeable too: I liked the comment from Simon Hoggart in the Guardian: ‘One of the gloating claims from a group that may have carried out the bombings announced that "Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic". Well, it didn't look like that. "London is now a bit fretful about how it's going to get home," would have been closer.’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,,1524723,00.html).
I’m also pleased that there doesn’t seem to be any urge to bomb anywhere else in retaliation (admittedly, Britain’s forces wouldn’t be up to it, anyhow, but there seems no desire for it). And at least for the moment, there doesn’t seem to be much of a backlash against innocent Muslims. The right-wing Murdoch tabloid the Sun, even had a front-page cover featuring two people reported missing, one Christian, one Muslim (they were beautiful girls, of course, it can’t change its prejudices entirely). I think the form the bombing took is significant here. It was clearly indiscriminate: not aimed at the elite, or the military or even particularly a symbol of capitalism. The tube and the buses are where all the Londoners are: rich and poor, of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. British Muslims have suffered casualties just like other ethnic/religious groups, and their religious leaders have also been quick to condemn such behaviour. And I think the police and security services have realised that if they are going to track the bombers and prevent future attacks they need to get information from Muslim communities in London, not alienate them. It’s hard to start a ‘clash of civilisations’ in Britain, where society is such a mix of cultures anyhow. I hope that continues.