Terrorism struck London again this week. A year on from the horrific killings in Brussels, terrorists inspired by fanatic dogma brought bloodshed to the capital’s streets. Four people dead and an attack on British democracy itself.
How do you account for someone with a car and a knife? Britain has some of the finest security services and police in the world, but there is little preparation against terrorism as determined and fanatical as this. That is a terrifying thought and a genuine national discussion, postponed for too long. It will need to take place regarding radicalisation.
I was only ten when 7/7 happened and I remember being terrified of the Tube for weeks. It took me even longer to board the Piccadilly Line with any confidence. There was mostly shock this time infused with heavy sadness. But I began to appreciate some things my ten year old self wouldn’t have been able to. The heroes. PC Keith Palmer who died defending Parliament. The Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood who attempted to save him. The emergency services who rushed selflessly towards danger. The civilians who tried to help the injured. A city that refused to grind to a halt but defiantly trooped on.
Commuters flowed, shops stayed open, people flocked about and London – fraught with tension – persisted. The next day bloomed messages of grief but also determination and defiance. From Tube signs calling for togetherness in the face of terror to Sadiq Khan’s powerful message of a city not being cowed by terrorism. Parliament resumed the next day, the Tube chugged on, and things carried on as before. Not as if nothing happened but because something had happened. Because sometimes the best message to send someone intent on destroying you is that you will not be deterred.
And sometimes you appreciate something even more when a terrifying threat comes for it. I love London immensely and never more so than when I watched the Metropolitan police respond how they did. When I saw Londoners through messages of solidarity and love refuse to accept the terrorists’ plan of dividing us. The Tube staff who must have feared another attack on the Underground, the very thing that encapsulates and symbolises our city.
London has had to accept some heavy criticisms in the wake of Brexit. Too much wealth, too out of touch, too much of everything and some of it is right. In fact a lot of it is. London is like the lightning rod for some of the worst criminal financial activities, has shocking levels of poverty matched by levels of consumerism and job creation that isn’t seen enough elsewhere. London is given a chance while other parts of the country are left behind. But there are some criticisms of London that have been made that aren’t just wrong, but in wake of this terrorist attack, should be reconsidered.
This idea that we’re a “liberal metropolitan elite” city where everyone is kind to immigrants and refugees because we can afford to be. People with such opinions do not know London or our history and it’s that scorned streak of liberalism that has shaped our reaction to the crisis. People of different backgrounds forge bonds here connected within the city almost like the Tube map itself. A wonderful myriad of differences that make us who we are.
In London we are defined by our differences. We celebrate our diversity as one of our strengths. This amazing city has a history for its openness and tolerance of all. Jews, Irish, Asians, Africans, Europeans and Muslims have all faced persecution but all been welcomed here. People coming from all over to study, work and live here is our cultural starting point. And that’s why terrorists have always attacked us because they hate our diversity and unity; from IRA to ISIS. This is the city that elected a Muslim mayor and is unashamedly and unconditionally liberal.
It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you look like or sound like. As long as you stand on the right side of the escalator, are unfailingly grumpy on the Tube and accept all – you are a Londoner. This is your city, your home. Our home. Division and hatred will never take it from us.