By Abbas Nasir
July 11th, 2015
WITH the passage of time, even important events begin to resemble a dot fading fast in the rear-view mirror. It is surprising, then, that sometimes a trigger can lead to a detailed, vivid recollection of an event from many, many years ago and create shockwaves even today.
We were in London last week and were leaving our rented flat when traffic congestion, just a few yards up on Upper Woburn Place by Tavistock Square diverted our attention to a remembrance happening in the square to mark the 10th anniversary of the London bombings which became known as 7/7.
That remembrance with some officials, the family and friends of the victims and quite a few passers-by in attendance became a trigger for a flood of memories of July 7, 2005. On that day, from our south London home, I was driving to Bush House (in Aldwych, Central London) where I worked for the BBC World Service.
As usual, the morning drive was accompanied by radio news. It must have been around 9.30 when a news flash caught my attention. It said there had been a ‘power surge’ on the London Underground, the network had been shut down and the travelling public was being advised not to head towards the Underground without first checking all was back to normal.
We had the usual quota of summer visitors who were planning to head to town for some ‘sightseeing’ (read shopping), so I called home to ensure they checked before leaving as it is never pleasant to be stranded outside.
Having finished the call, and on reaching the Bush House car park, as I got out, I heard what sounded like an explosion not very far off and the ground also seemed to shake a bit. But the din of traffic made me think my mind was playing tricks. So I walked into the building and took the lift to my office.
This is when the first details started to trickle in that there had been three bombings on the London Underground network and a fourth on a bus just a couple of hundred metres south of Euston Station on Upper Woburn Place on the road sandwiched between the British Medical Association and Tavistock Square.
With all the facts known much later, it was a chilling realisation that what I’d heard was actually the teenaged bomber on the bus detonating his explosives-filled backpack barely a mile and a half in a straight line from where I stood, sending several people to a violent death.
In an environment where ‘moderate’ Muslim community leaders have been marginalised, the future doesn’t look rosy.
The bus blast was preceded by three near-simultaneous bomb explosions (later three of them were attributed to suicide bombers of Pakistani origin) on the network between King’s Cross-Russell Square stations, Liverpool Street-Aldgate stations and at Edgware Road station, killing more than 50 people and injuring scores of others, some so grievously they’d have to live with disability for the rest of their lives.
As journalists, all of us got busy in covering the story and didn’t realise till much later that the victims of that carnage were so representative of London itself, comprising the widest variety of origins, faiths, ethnicities, castes and creeds.
It was after these attacks, and several unsuccessful ones reportedly prevented by the security services, that most Londoners first caught sight of specialist firearms officers as policemen wearing side arms and carrying submachine guns appeared on the scene.
While the events of 9/11 in the distant US did create anxiety and some racial tension in the UK, which scarred some close friends and colleagues when they were set upon by racist goons blaming them for Osama bin Laden’s mayhem, things settled down pretty quickly.
It was, therefore, natural for similar anxieties to surface post 7/7 and some Islamophobia was in evidence. But, despite random incidents of violence and attacks, the anger on London streets never approached anywhere near the hatred the suicide bombers vented on people ostensibly for the Iraq war; in fact, many among the victims were opposed to it.
It is admittedly naïve to expect that terrorists would be so discriminating. They aren’t. One need only look at Pakistan’s example where more than 50,000 citizens who had nothing to do with the US presence in the region were made to suffer the terrorists’ wrath.
However, in the case of the UK, it seems the terrorists who targeted Britons in London couldn’t achieve what Wall Street bankers and their European counterparts, whose unaccountable greed and actions plunged the world into an economic meltdown, did.
Of course, coupled with the aura the self-styled Islamic State’s slick social media wing has created around the terrorist organisation with the help of gullible or callously complicit Western media groups, this has triggered ugly and often blatant xenophobia and racism.
Where in the past if one arrived with a Pakistani passport with a mere ‘permanent residence’ stamped on it, the immigration officers would often smile and say ‘welcome home’, now (non-white) naturalised British citizens are asked all sorts of outrageous questions such as ‘how long do you plan to stay in the UK?’
In an environment where ‘moderate’ Muslim community leaders have been marginalised considerably in terms of their influence on some among the younger generation enamoured by the lure of IS; and where the ‘other side’ is now increasingly being hijacked by the xenophobic UKIP’s thinking with even the governing Tories playing catch-up, the future doesn’t look rosy.
All hope, however, isn’t lost as a young woman university student of Asian origin recently told me. “Our reality is very different. Our generation is growing up in multiethnic/cultural Britain. We are much more at ease with each other. Most of this nonsense will disappear when we take charge — actually even before that — wait and see how tensions dissipate when the economy and the job situation gets better.”
Abbas Nasir is a former editor of Dawn.