London lives

Mary Kaldor
7 July 2005

There is something perverse about globalisation. I live and work in the area of London targeted in the four explosions on Thursday 7 July. None of our phones worked for several hours and I couldn’t reach my family and close friends. Yet even before I quite realised what was happening, I was receiving emails from India, America, Azerbaijan, Kosovo and even Baghdad.

This area (Holborn, Russell Square, Aldwych) soon became eerily quiet except for the sound of sirens and helicopters. Between the dozens of ambulances and fire engines, people milled around on the streets trying to get their mobiles to work.

Also in openDemocracy, our editor Isabel Hilton writes a “Letter from wounded London”

The latest tally of victims from the four bombings is more than 50 killed and 700 wounded. It is impossible to dignify this nihilistic crime by attributing political motives. It cannot be explained in terms of religion, ideology, or any rational motive, however perverted. A group calling itself “Secret Organisation of al-Qaida in Europe” claims responsibility and says it is taking “revenge” on the “British Zionist crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

If the claim proves accurate, what kind of revenge is it to attack the city where 2 million people marched against the war in Iraq? Surely this is not the way to get the British out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Some argue that the aim is to divide our city; the terrorists want Muslims to stay at home. They want to create an idea of jihad. But even this hypothesis implies too much rationality. The most that can be attributed to these insane criminals is a desire to be important. They have no other way to make us take notice except violence. They are small people who want a moment of global action.

This is why the best reaction to this crime is to ignore it – to refuse to allow its perpetrators their moment of notoriety. Of course, it is important to strengthen protection of innocent people, and to track down the criminals and bring them before the courts. But the crime should not be allowed to derail everyday plans and projects.

So far, the response from the emergency services, from political, religious and civic leaders, and from London’s population has been exemplary. They have offered solidarity to the victims and emphasised the need for Londoners to stick together. The crime has not produced terror or panic. Where possible, people are continuing with whatever was on their agenda where this is not disrupted by transport or by the hideous effects of the explosions.

Will citizens and their leaders carry this insistence on normality and continuity of behaviour into the broader political arena? They face this crucial question amidst an extraordinary period in London’s, and Britain’s, history. The mobilisation around the G8 summit, the spectacular Live8 concerts, the vast protest march in Edinburgh, and the excitement generated by the Make Poverty History campaign have all generated a palpable mood of collective expectation. Then, on 6 July, the announcement that the 2012 Olympics would be held in London created a wave of jubilation. Every day for a fortnight seems to have been a global drama.

Then the bombers struck, as if in an attempt to poison and derail this evolving mood. This makes it even more vital that politicians and citizens keep their balance.

The G8 must retain its focus. Tony Blair is right to decide that the leaders gathered in Gleneagles should “continue to discuss the issues that we were going to discuss and reach the conclusions that we were going to reach.” Even George W Bush says that it was important to talk about debt reduction and aid for Africa – though he could not quite bring himself to use the “c-word” (climate change) and referred to a “cleaner environment” instead. The best way that those powerful men in Gleneagles could show their solidarity with London is to make historic decisions on debt reduction, aid and trade, and climate change.

This consistency is also needed on other critical political issues. We need to go on thinking about Iraq, identity cards, Europe, the environment, in a way that is not swayed by these terrible events. For example, I still want to help build a peaceful and democratic Iraq, to support an inclusive government in Baghdad, and end the occupation irrespective of what happened in London. I still oppose the introduction of identity cards and want to defend civil liberties in Britain.

Ken Livingstone, London’s mayor, got it right. London is a great cosmopolitan city with hundreds of languages and religions, where people keep coming “to be free, to live the life they choose, to be able to be themselves”. Most Londoners love the city for that very reason. The message of Live8 and the Olympics bid was the solidarity, pride and enthusiasm of Londoners of all classes, religions, colour or culture. The best way to respond to threats from whatever quarter – Islamic terrorists or white vigilantes – is to remember how we felt before the attacks and keep that mood alive.

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