Friday, July 08, 2005

LONDON: There is no need, at this point, to report on the four terrorist attacks in London yesterday morning.
I've been debating writing something throughout the day; I've written e-mails to friends, but still feel the desire to set thoughts down, to try to make sense of, at any rate, my own reactions, and those I've seen around me, and respond to events which have not affected me directly (thankfully), but have cast something of a shadow over life here.
The atmosphere in London seems to be well-captured by Ian McEwan; his account, which I highly recommend, rings true.
Here in Oxford things have been quiet -- indeed, unsettlingly quiet. There is, of course, very little one can say about something like this; and people have, at least in my experience, been saying little. It is as if this town of talkers has taken Wittgenstein's advice to heart. The interesting thing is that the quiet is not glum. People are going about their lives as if nothing had happened. The contrast to the atmosphere in New Haven and New Jersey after 9/11 is striking. This is partly due, of course, to the smaller scale of the attacks, which, horrible as they were, have left fewer dead, so that it's likely that fewer people here are worrying about friends and family in London than people around the US, and particularly in the greater New York area, were worrying about loved ones in NYC (the greater preponderance of mobiles, which make communication easier, may also have helped); and there have been no towers toppled, no engulfing clouds of smoke and debris.
Much of the calm, stolid reaction here has been attributed to the British character, the British virtues of stoicism, quiet endurance and good nature. There is probably a great deal of truth to this; and it's admirable. There may also be something to the argument that the whole ordeal has been less unfamiliar - to this city that has withstood the Blitz and IRA bombings - and, after New York, Bali, and Madrid, to say nothing of Afghanistan and the often daily atrocities in Iraq, less surprising, than was the attack on NYC. This, too, is true. But even taking these factors into account, Oxford today has often seemed shockingly unconcerned.
Then again, who can say what people are thinking? And what is there to say about all of this?
I've found myself more shaken by this than I'd have thought, or initially did think. Surprising -- and somewhat suspect -- waves of affection for London (a city I know, but not well, and like, but have never thought myself in love with) have been periodically washing over me. The strangest thing was the desire, shortly after hearing the news, to head into London -- not to gawk at the spectacle, which I don't think I could have borne. Why, then?
Part of the explanation, I suspect, is a failure to fully take aboard what had happened, which led to the insane hope that I would find London unchanged, quiet, functional -- a desire for reassurance, when reassurance did not in fact exist. All of this was deeply subconscious, and didn't occur to me until later. At the moment I felt the urge to go into London (it quickly passed), the main feelings were of affection, and indeed longing, for the city, and a sense of wanting to be with and in it; and of sheer cussedness, contrariness. The thought was not so much one of not letting the terrorists win -- the idea of 'winning' seemed too abstract at the moment -- but rather the feeling that I wasn't going to let the terror attacks and their perpetrators determine my life. No doubt there was an element of false heroics here; there was also simple, impotent anger. But I like to think that I've also managed to catch a bit of the general spirit here -- one of defiance, alongside all the shock and anxiety and grief.
So, what now? Speculation on the implications and ultimate impact of these events seems premature, and I don't feel particularly qualified to offer it. I hope that the attacks won't play into the hands of the nationalist, anti-Asian, anti-Muslim Right; nor that the Government will now enact further freedom-curbing anti-terrorist legislation. At the same time, one has to expect that life in London will be changed; that there will be more security measures, sporadic scares, that things will be slower, tenser, grimmer. All of this can be borne; and the British will, I'm sure, bear it well. There may be a political impact, though I doubt it. I tend to think that if those who committed these mass-murders hoped to terrify Britain, or alter her policies, or shake her resolve, they are as idiotic as they are evil. The British tend not to take kindly to such treatment; and when attacked, they tend to stand firm. Indeed, while no-one could welcome or gladly and cheerfully accept such horrors, they seem at their best in times of adversity, to welcome challenge and hardship. And London is a city that is used to destruction, and always rises again, sometimes grubbier, but usually stronger. London has survived fire, plague, the Blitz; I hope, and believe, that it will be standing, a vibrant, proud, free city, long after its latest attackers have receded into the darkness.
But all of this is very remote from present realities. For the time being, London has been attacked; London is wounded; and London carries on. And I'm sure that the thoughts and emotions, the sympathy and concern, of people around the world are with the inhabitants of London.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?