Friday, July 07, 2006

7/7 Anniversary

A year on from the London bombings. London heals. The fears abate. The survivors, the injured and the families of the victims heal more slowly.

The key questions remain. To what extent was the bombing about “Islam”? The fact that 1 in 8 British Muslims apparently think of the bombers as “martyrs”, the fact that hundreds of young Muslims protested the Danish cartoons with placards promising Europe more carnage, means that the suicide bombers cannot be described as a couple of misguided young men who “misinterpreted their religion”, as the Anglican priest wheeled on to BBC Radio 4 this morning claimed. But the fact that most Muslims were as disgusted as other British people by the bombs means that – contra Melanie Phillips et al – Islam as a whole is clearly not to blame.

Or to what extent was the bombing about the war in Iraq, chickens coming home to roost for Blair’s foreign policy? A ridiculous and morally vacuous notion, clearly falsified by the fact that September 11 was visited upon an America that had not yet gone back to Iraq. I continue to believe that what was under attack was the profane pluralism that has become so ordinary in London, a city (like new York, our twin across the Atlantic) that has always been a cosmopolis, but whose cosmopolitanism flourishes in conditions of the democracy and freedom that our enemies envy and loathe.

Secondly, what can we do about this “home grown threat”, as our official opinion formers constantly – and banally – call it? There is a strong call – from New Labour and points right – for a more assertive policy of assimilation. Yet on one level the “home grown” bombers were all too assimilated. Where their parents and grandparents were positioned as guests in Britain and acted deferentially to it, these young citizens are secure enough in their Britishness to hate this country as much as any young white SWP member. On another level, the assimilatory policies that operate – consciously and unconsciously – in our schools always position brown-skilled people as foreign and unable to measure up to the “real” British, which causes resentment to simmer.

Others call for a renewal of multiculturalism, for more “understanding”, for tolerance and interfaith dialogue. Good-hearted though this call may be, surely the notion that Britain is a patchwork of discrete, homogeneous, unchanging “identities” or “cultures” or “communities” condemns us eternally to a fractured civic culture. In particular, it freezes our so-called BME citizens in some anachronistic version of “their” culture, as defined by the reactionary, authoritarian patriarchs who are accorded the status of “community leaders”.

Moving around London during the World Cup, it was clear to me that most people can comfortably live with multiple identities – you can be proudly English, proudly Punjabi, proudly an Arsenal fan, proudly a Londoner, all at the same time – so long as you’re left to get on with it. Culture is always changing, fragmenting, fusing – but official multiculturalism refuses to recognise that, preferring to force it to fit unchanging recognisable shapes like “Muslim culture”.

And, finally, what of the policing and intelligence failures that allowed 7/7 to happen? It is the nature of this sort of terrorism that it is impossible to perfectly police. As the old Nihilist slogan went, the state has to be lucky all of the time; the terrorist just has to be lucky once. What is clear, though, is that the state should be transparent and honest about what they did and didn’t know and about what might have gone wrong. In the absence of honesty and transparency, the conspiracy theories that breed in our digital age fester and spread.

Links:

Survivors: Rachel from North London, Daniel from Kings Cross

Commentary: Pickled Politics, Yorkshire Ranter

My July 2005 bombing archive:

Tags:War on Terror, Terrorism, London, UK, Al Qaeda, Politics, Islam
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Trackback: Michael Weiss at Slate

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