I lived in London in years when several terrorist bombings were carried out by the IRA. It was easy enough to be stoic; the odds weren't so bad. The King's Cross station fire in 1987 was actually worse. But there was never anything like what has happened in the past 24 hours there; never anything so calculated to disturb.
As the news broke last night - an apparent seven simultaneous bombings in a staged assault - it seemed apocalyptic. I know how bad a mundane stranding in the London Tube can be. How awful and terrifying must this be?
Yet, as TV coverage of the bombings ran past midnight, the composure of London people, and especially those in the police and emergency services, was quite striking. The Spirit of the Blitz is not imaginary. Londoners have a folk memory about what it is to get up and move on.
Tony Blair's initial statement was good; Ken Livingstone's impromptu speech from Singapore, on behalf of and about Londoners - no, he said, we will not surrender to hate - utterly inspiring. Sitting there, in a quiet house in front of the TV, I cried as he spoke. [Bush, with his wooden cliches, I just wanted to slap.] I thought of the people I know in London: they were probably alright. My heart went out to the Lions supporters who are currently our guests: what awful news on what should have been the trip of a lifetime.
I smiled to myself as I wondered where London people went as transport and communications links toppled: to the pub, probably. The cycle couriers I used to know there: riding harder than ever, I figured.
I also thought about all the people who have died in the violence of the past four years, most of them away from the news cameras, in the bloody, unending mess of Iraq. It cannot now be seriously denied that this war has made things much worse.
Katherine Wilson, a New Zealander living in London, has been in touch to share the email she sent to friends after the bombings:
After writing this I spent the evening with some friends and then walked to my home in Piccadilly Circus up from Westminster bridge and so along the houses of Parliament and the royal guards house where there were an awful lot of soldiers behind gates, ordinary police on the streets and an astonishingly quiet population slowly going about their business. Here were my thoughts as events unfolded in London:
I thought I would send an email to you all as I sit here in London listening to and reading about the explosions here. My first sending attempt failed as the networks are quite overloaded, so this is effort number two. I remember vividly the 9/11 attacks and going into Wellington College to teach that day, and the choices that I made about how to talk to my students about what was happening. This time, I am at the heart of it all, and it does feel different. In some ways, it is less of a shock, partly because we have been talking about the likelihood of an attack ever since 2001, and also because 9/11 was so unimaginable. However, the emotional response is stronger, not least because there are still friends I have not yet heard from, and because I cannot travel to be with anybody. The phone and transport networks are not working. The radio and internet news (what a time not to have a television!!) are consumed with eyewitness reports that convey an overwhelming desire to connect with other people, to be reassured that the world is still (mostly) standing and that there are structures that they can still connect to and be part of.
I did think yesterday as I watched the news from the G8 that this was an opportunity for anybody who wished to break the law, but my mind never turned to this eventuality. One of my good friends, Caleb, avoided being in the blasts at Moorgate through running late for work; I was nowhere near Russell Square when the bus exploded as I decided to call friends in NZ instead of heading into university. Daniel is not in London, having gone to a course in Winchester last night. Of course I am extremely relieved that he is safe, but it does make for a rather bleak day and night as I sit alone in my flat behind Piccadilly Circus.
Events like this do refocus the mind on what is important, and just how unimportant all those daily difficulties that drive you mad are. It reminds me to extend and live out much more the most important part of my credo - to love and care for others, for they are individual human beings worthy of attention and response. And I say this thinking of those on both sides of the even - the victims and perpetrators. It is difficult to know what to think or do at a time like this. Still, as I think of the potential 'distractions' to this news - events at the G8 and by extension climate change and poverty in Africa; the Olympics news; the problems in the EU and implications for countries in the east of Europe and those who happen to live in them, and all the other events that mean something to somebody - it seems wrong to try to decide which ones are more important, 'newsworthy' or meaningful. It is this that speaks strongest to me about importance of a lived-out respect and care for other people, which hopefully can balance these competing demands, even in the midst of your own catastrophe.
Dave Crampton has various links to coverage, including London blogs.
And on with the post I was going to write: In my post on Wednesday on the flap about Ashraf Choudhary's comments I consciously went too far in making a point, and I had a number of interesting responses. Including this one from Sumana Islam:
I liked your post. I was wondering if you know that in the Quran there is no mention of stoning as a punishment for any crime whatsoever. You'd think this was quite an important piece of information but no one seems to mention it. The reporter had the perfect trick question though. "The Quran says to stone gay people to death [total untruth but who's gonna catch that in time?]. Is the Quran wrong or is stoning gay people wrong?" I guess the MP could only get out unscathed if he knew the Quran off by heart, which I doubt many people do (I had to look it up and make sure). New low for journalism in this country.
And then there was this from a man identifying himself only as Geoff:
Read your article about Ashraf Choudry's comments on the Koran. You also point the bible supporting stoning for homosexuality & many other things, but, obviously not being a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ you've made a fundamental error. The Bible contains two covenants.
The first one was given to the Jews, the nation of Israel. Apart from the 10 commandments set in stone, there were laws that, if an Israelite broke them, they must be put to death, for death is the only way sin can be made up for to appease God. For many other sins a lamb, or goat, or dove had to be sacrificed and its blood poured out at the altar.
The second covenant also required death for sin. But with a huge difference. The Lord Jesus Christ himself was the one put to death by crucifixion as the punishment for all sin. So instead of the sinner having to be put to death for his/her sins, he bore it instead. This was first offered to the Jews who, apart from a select few, rejected this and kept the old system. So it was offered to all other nations (Gentiles) instead.
The only punishment now is that people who are sinful and disobey God and wont believe in and follow the Lord Jesus Christ will go to a place called Hades (the place of the departed dead) suffering torment from a continual fire and worms that continually eat them. believe me, you don't want to go there.
Then, at the end of this age, they are cast into Gehenna, a lake of eternal fire, with the Devil, the false-prophet, and his angels. Those that believe in and obey Christ will enter eternal life in heaven with Him and His Father, the Great God YHWH (Yahweh). If you read 2 Corinthians 3 in the King James Bible it says that the law in stone was abolished and replaced by something more glorious.
So God swapped a detailed programme of arbitrary brutality (I'm sorry, but rape victims should be murdered?) for an unending panorama of sadism? I think I'd rather not believe in such a deity, thank you. I would note the likes of Geoff seem happy to forget their demarcations when it comes to homosexuality, about which Jesus never said a word. And I find the undertone of anti-Semitism in his statement quite unsettling.
James Keyworth, a pastor at Christian City Church and a longtime Hard News reader, is rather more my sort of believer, and thought I made "some good points" in the post.
Although I feel like you are picking through the Bible, turning a blind eye to the grace scriptures I assume you have familiarity with.
If you have had a Christian phase as the article in this week's Metro [As I have explained, I didn't - RB] - you would know what Jesus' response to an attempted stoning was.
In John 8: But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7: When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8: Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9: At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10: Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
11: "No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
I see this as God's heart towards us- we are all guilty of death because of our sins, but he loves us so much that forgives us. We are to have the same attitude and forgive others, as we have been forgiven.
I agree with your point that Christians are hypocrites- we've definitely seen that in the last few weeks in NZ. And I'm guilty of continually being a poor representative of Christ and other Christians.
Humanism is a fallback- that we may use to justify incongrous actions but is inherently selfish and is a philosophy which has many proponents but few critics.
I won't venture too far here, given that theology isn't exactly my strong suit. But I know that Christian teachings did introduce a new, more humble and merciful philosophy that was a great human advance on the covenants that had held sway in that region before. And that that philosophy remains at the heart of the tradition of Christian mission that has directly helped billions of people through history. Men and women of God have gone out and given of themselves in a way that makes my own fitful efforts at charity look insignificant. I appreciate the quiet strength that belief has afforded others.
Would I choose modern Christianity over modern Islam? Of course. But the church has presided over so many of its own horrors. The faith still seems a vehicle for hate in some hands. And it is not unreasonable to describe those IRA bombers, with their insane sectarianism, as Christian terrorists.
Yet I certainly do believe that there are aspects of nature that are best addressed through the religious imagination; just as to see romantic love as simply a series of chemical releases in the brain would be to miss the point. Even if I had the intellectual capacity to grasp what science is saying about the universe, it is so vast, complex and mysterious that perhaps I would still choose sheer wonder as a response. Spirituality as a means of modelling nature, you might say. But I cannot contrive to believe in a Man in the Sky handing down instructions for life. My values - and those that defend us from what has happened in the past 24 hours - are human values. I believe they are strong.
PS: I made this post, went for a walk and came back and changed one word: the last one. The word was "stronger", now it is "strong". I decided that I simply wanted to assert my values, not to elevate them over anyone else's. We have enough of that.