A reaction to the last thirty-six hours…

This has been the second major terrorist attack on a major international city that I’ve felt I should write about on my site over the last five and a bit years. It’s also the second that has left me speechless and unsure how to react. Last time I tried desperately to find ways to be useful, but it was still difficult to know what you could say or do that wouldn’t just be redundant. At the time I thought it was because it was a time for New Yorkers to talk, and that the rest of us were really just there to be supportive or whatever. But now there’s been an attack on London – the city in which I live – and I still don’t know what to say. It feels sordid to wallow or revel in the attacks, melodramatic and self-important to talk about how shocking it was and strangely self-involved to talk about your personal experience of it. Unfortunately, even though it’s difficult to know what you can say about what’s happened, as time passes you get more and more conscious that it’s worse to say nothing. Something has happened. People have died. We need to acknowledge it.

Which is I think why the stoicism of the British webloggers has felt so right to me – the attitude is clear and simple. We’re not going to dwell, we’re not going to indulge in an orgy of introspection and outpourings of grief. We’re not going to perform our emotions on stage for everyone around us. We’re going to stand by the victims and their families quietly. We’re going to make it absolutely clear once and for all that this is a city that has been burned to the ground, ravaged by Plague and bombed to hell and will not be moved by these terrorists. And then we’re going to get on with our lives. As normal. Full Stop. The London News Review said it first and best. I stand with them.

And that’s all I’ve got. I have no more to react to. No more to say. Other than to say how impressed I’ve been with Londonist and the other weblogs that have been actively covering the whole thing. And while I’ve got the opportunity, I’d also like to say how awesome it’s been to see an out-gay Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Brian Paddick, playing such a significant role in reassuring the British public. That made me feel better about London than pretty much anything else.

8 replies on “A reaction to the last thirty-six hours…”

Sorry, Tom, I’m probably misreading your post, but what about Madrid? Major city, major attack; that makes it three by my count.

The international reaction, as I’ve personally experienced it, has been great: people have been almost universally supportive, as well as rightly impressed by the stoicism of those caught up in the attacks. Some more thoughts here.

It has been, and still is, odd. And difficult. I’ve felt so dislocated from it all because I’m in SF, yet in a way my jetlag and the fact that I’m so far away has made it all feel much more intense. I spent much of yesterday having random moments where I just wanted to cry, and then being woken by sirens wailing at 2am this morning (big fire just six blocks away from where I was staying) really freaked me out. Yet today I just feel stoic and resolved.
I spent a lot of time last night trying to describe how I felt to the people here, and my overwhelming reaction towards the terrorists continues to be ‘Fuck you. Don’t think you can scare me. Don’t think you will change anything about me, or my country. Don’t think you can affect Londoners so easily. We dealt with the IRA, we dealt with the Blitz. We are stronger than you, and stronger than you can ever imagine. So fuck off. You can’t bully us.’
I feel awfully sad for the people who have been hurt or who have lost family or friends, yet I feel like the best way to remember them is to not be cowed by anyone, not least some sick, deluded extremist with 10lb of explosives.

Yeah – I’m sorry, I didn’t phrase that bit very well. I’m going to tweak it now. I was trying to articulate this idea that there were some events in the world that – when they happen – you just can’t not express an opinion about them without that being some kind of betrayal. But the same events often defy response. This event happened in London, and for a Londoner to not respond or react to it in any way would be disrespectful and callous. That’s not to minimise the tragedies of Madrid and Bali – just to say that in those situations the role of the spectating countries is to step back and offer support. You don’t own the grief. You have very different responsibilities.

One of the things that I personally found difficult was the sense of being a spectator in my own city. Not being up in town when the bombs went off, I was reduced to being a passive observer of events, and that’s quite hard to handle, especially when friends elsewhere in the world (quite understandably) equated me with London. I was as far removed from these events as they were.

Stuck at home, watching the telly, assuring friends and the the extended family that I and the immediate family were ok, I felt a peculiar sense of powerlessness, of uselessness. I couldn’t do anything, and yet I wasn’t in the situation that someone who wasn’t a Londoner would have been: I felt that I had some responsibility, but whatever it was, I had no idea how to discharge it.

I’ve been enjoying the quiet stoicism I’ve seen coming from all of the Londoners I’ve seen on TV as well.
None of the arm-waving-hand-flapping fire-breathing knee-jerk rhetoric you’d expect from Americans. None of the blind panic and fear responses you’d expect from Americans. Just quiet acknowledgement that nasty people did a bad bad thing – but we’re still better than they are and we’re not going to let them change us.
The contrast between Blair’s speech, and Bush’s little mutterings on the lawn outside, was just a highlight.
The best part of all this is what’s not present. As Bruce Schneier is fond of saying, the main goal of a terrorist isn’t to kill people – it’s to cause terror. It must be incredibly annoying for a terrorist to see people responding to their attack so calmly.

Horrific events that even people in New Zealand feel sad about. It’s a strange thing, what another’s grief can do to one being.
But also, when you have family and friends living in Central London, it makes it just that little bit harder.
Btw, nice post Tom 🙂

None of the blind panic and fear responses you’d expect from Americans. Just quiet acknowledgement flag that nasty people did a bad bad thing – but we’re still better than they are and we’re not going to let them change us.

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