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.