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Edinburgh Politics and Economics

Bombs

Well, the G8 protests may have gone off peacefully, but someone certainly took advantage of the distraction. What better time to stage an attack on London than the week in which half of Britain’s police, counter-terrorism forces, and intelligence services have their attention firmly focused on the tiny village of Auchterarder?

Britain is no stranger to terrorist attacks, but just like the Madrid bombings last year, the timing of this one is particularly pointed. (I can’t help but feel that Tony Blair’s condemnation of Islamic terror groups is premature, though, unless he has access to some very interesting information that hasn’t been leaked to the press yet. If not, what the hell was he trying to achieve with that “We know that these people act in the name of Islam” sound bite?)

I’m still trying to digest the significance of the attack. There is a disturbing contrast that keeps buzzing around in my head: at the Live 8 concerts, our attention was being drawn to the figure of 30,000 people dying every day in Africa because of poverty. Today, the news reports that 38 people were killed in London by bomb blasts.

Can one compare these two statistics? How does one take the measure of a tragedy? How do we react in the face of each one? And what do those reactions say about us?


Earlier this evening, I had to detour around a blocked-off section of Princes Street. Buildings all the way up to George Street were evacuated. Police officers weren’t saying anything other than “there has been an incident, and we’ve had to close off the road.” However, right at the middle of the cordoned-off and cleared-out street stood a solitary bus with its lights flashing. A bomb squad control van was parked discreetly up on the pavement some distance away. Fortunately, the bomb scare turned out to be just that: a scare. There were no real explosives.

I stood at the edge of the cordon for a while, talking to Abi on the phone, and letter her know what was going on. Part of me was fascinated, part of me was horrified. I wanted to stay around and watch in case something happened (how often do you see something lke that in real life!), while the more sensible side of my brain was screaming “are you fucking nuts? You think it would be fun to have the experience of being caught on the edge of an explosion?”

I walked away, all the while wondering what I would do if I saw a flash reflected in a shop window, or heard the first report and felt the first rush of a shock wave. I was on Princes Street at lunchtime earlier today when the one o’clock gun went off, and I jumped out of my skin. Several people yelped, and many other people just froze. I looked around for smoke and flames, and it took me a second or two to remember the time of day, and realise that nothing was wrong.

I can’t imagine what a real bomb would have been like. It wouldn’t be like in the movies. It wouldn’t be cool. I wouldn’t want to enthuse about it afterwards. I wouldn’t walk away unchanged. If I walked away at all.

2 replies on “Bombs”

First of all I want to say that I woke up here on the west coast of America with the news of the bombings in London. While I have always thought that another incident similar to Spain would occur I never really expected it, I don’t suppose that is is something that one would and I know that that may not make much sense. In any case, my prayers and sympathies go out to all of those affected – the dead, wounded, their families and friends and all of England.

In my humble opinion, the primary difference that first jumps out at me is that the bombings are a deliberate and planned assault on civilian life while the poverty that exists in Africa is attributable to multiple causes (corrupt regimes and climate primarily, droughts, the failure to progress after colonialism ended and inter-tribal feuds, just to name a few).

Neither is acceptable, but the intentional act is worse for the very reason that it was an immediate and intentional act. No one said “let’s starve xxx people in Africa” but somebody DID say “lets explode bombs in London and kill civilians.” There is a qualitative difference in the cause of the effect. Much as the difference between premeditated murder and manslaughter (not that the latter applies to the conditions in Africa).

In both cases we should want to do something. In the case of the terrorist attacks I would take a militarist view – find them and kill them. In the other case, the same measures that are being discussed at the G8 are a good start. The past practice of corrupt regimes taking the aid money provided for personal gain must be stopped and prevented. Although I am not incredibly familiar with the details of past aid, I would think that the oft-quoted Biblical truism that it is better to teach a man to fish instead of giving him a fish should be followed.

I’m not meaning to offer complete solutions and I got into more detail than I intended, just my thoughts on that one question.

Again, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Nils,

I agree with the gist of your comment – it reflects something I was feeling about the difference between the Loma Prieta quake (the last major quake I was in) and yesterday. The difference between the two is not the death toll – more people died in Loma Prieta than in the London bombs yesterday. The difference is in the human malice. No seismic fault cares about the damage it does. A terrorist clearly does.

I disagree a bit about Africa, though. Its problems are not just African (corrupt dictators), climatic and historical.

One major factor in Third World poverty is entirely down to the First World: farm subsidies. Rather than give money to corrupt regimes, if we simply stopped giving money to our own farmers, to allow them to both sell their produce cheaply and make a good living, we could change the face of the world. Although shipping cheap subsidised food to Africa, for instance, feeds them for the time, it also destroys the ability of the local farmers to make a living. It’s your point about teaching them to fish.

I concede that protectionism is not as great an evil as murderous fanaticism, but I think we do bear some responsibility for the problems of the Third World.

(Personally, I think only developing countries should be allowed trade tariffs, to build and protect their industries until they are ready to compete on the open market. This is, of course, the reverse of the existing situation, where only large trading countries have the clout to make their tariffs stick.)

And I disagree that we should hunt the terrorists down and kill them. I think we should hunt them down and try them in open court, so the world can see what cowards and criminals they are. Killing them just makes them martyrs, and they do not deserve that kind of immortality. Besides, the only way to fight barbarism is with civilisation, and the legal system is the weapon of a civilised nation.

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