IRA ends its armed campaign


All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms.

All Volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever.

With all of these new suicide bombers giving terrorists a bad name, what else are ya gonna do?

(On the non-cynical front: yay.)

Defiant normality

Over on Making Light, Abi uses the wonderful term “defiant normality” to describe the behaviour of Londoners following yesterday’s bombings. This fits in with a lot of the other responses I’ve been seeing in the news and on blogs. Tim Worstall wrote one of the best (Via The Guardian’s news blog):

Many thanks for the kind words and to those who have emailed offering condolences and prayers. I have a prediction to make, that tomorrow we’ll find out whether Britons are, still, in fact, Britons. Many years ago I was working in The City and there were two events that made travel into work almost impossible.

The first was a series of storms that brought down power lines, blocked train routes and so on. Not surprisingly, the place was empty the next day. Why bother to struggle through?

The other event was an IRA bomb which caused massive damage and loss of life. Trains were disrupted, travel to work the next day was horribly difficult and yet there were more people at work than on a normal day. There was no co-ordination to this, no instructions went out, but it appeared that people were crawling off their sick beds in order to be there at work the next day, thrusting their mewling and pewling infants into the arms of anyone at all so that they could be there.

Yes, we’ll take an excuse for a day off, throw a sickie. But you threaten us, try to kill us? Kill and injure some of us?

Fuck you, sunshine.

We’ll not be having that.

No grand demonstrations, few warlike chants, a desire for revenge, of course, but the reaction of the average man and woman in the street? Yes, you’ve tried it now bugger off. We’re not scared, no, you won’t change us. Even if we are scared, you can still bugger off.

Britain has thirty years of coping with terrorist bombings, and we will deal with these new attacks accordingly. The police and security services will hunt down the perpetrators and try to bring them to justice. Despite MI5 having the word “military” in its abbreviation, this is not a military issue. There are no countries to invade, because this is not a war. These terrorists are nothing more than criminal scum. Let’s not elevate them beyond that. They deserve no more status, and no less disgust.


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.

G8, yada yada

I was going to write something about the G8 protests happening in Edinburgh this week, but Abi has already done an excellent job of it over on her blog. Yes, there have been protests; no, there hasn’t been any full-scale rioting.

Edinburgh Evening News front page from 5 July 2005Not that that has stopped the media from trying to hype up even minor kerfuffles. The most egregious sensationalism probably came from today’s (Tuesday’s) Evening News. “THE NIGHTMARE COMES TRUE” reads the garish headline. “We prayed it wouldn’t happen but yesterday the city erupted. The day that rocked the Capital: Pages 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 12”

And yet they couldn’t find anything more shocking to show on the front page than a close-cropped photo of a few police officers pushing back two protesters? Give me a break.

When I cycled along Princes St yesterday afternoon, the riot police outnumbered the revellers/protesters. And in many places, the press photographers outnumbered the riot police.

The unfortunate thing is that it’s in the interests of everyone involved to make the most out of every little scrap and scrape:

  • The protesters want the publicity of defeats in minor incidents to show how strongly they’re being oppressed, and how disproportionate the police response is
  • The police want the publicity of victories in minor incidents to demonstrate how firmly they’ve got the situation under control
  • The media want the publicity of minor incidents, because, well, they don’t have any major ones to report on. They’ve got all these reporters, photographers and camera crews on site, and they damn well want to get their money’s worth. “G8 protests uneventful” doesn’t sell newspapers.
  • The people of Edinburgh want the publicity of minor incidents so that we can tut-tut disapprovingly in public (while breathing sighs of relief in private), and generally maintain a air of superiority over Seattle and Genoa, while still appearing sympathetic to their plight. Edinburgh is far too civilized for all-out street warfare, don’t y’know?
  • The politicians are just happy for any kind of publicity at all.

(Of course, this may all change tomorrow.)

I have to say that I’m terribly cynical about the power of the Make Poverty History movement, the Live 8 concerts, and the G8 protests. It’s feel-good activism. I’m not belittling the goal of abolishing poverty (I am a socialist, after all), but it’s a bit like praying for rain in Glasgow, and then believing that God has smiled on you personally when it starts bucketing down.

The G8 leaders must think that Christmas has come early. Here is this massive popular movement, demanding that they take action over a hugely emotive issue. How much will cost the G8 nations to write off Third World debt? Peanuts. Shave a tiny percentage off of defense budgets, for example, and you’re practically there. When else in history have politicians had it in their power to satisfy so many voters by doing so little?

There will be a press conference, and a few well-photographed handshakes. Job done. Everyone wearing a white armband can smile in satisfaction that they helped make it happen! and go back to not caring about more complex issues affecting the world, like climate change, religious conflicts in the Middle-East, and the slithery tentacles of corporatism. You can’t be expected to solve all the world’s problems yourself, can you?

On a vaguely related topic, I am absolutely in awe of the police’s ability to keep their cool around so many clowns. It’s not that I’m afraid of clowns per se (sinister though they may be), it’s just that anyone who chooses to dress up like that and parade down the street, taunting bystanders with a “look how alternative I am!” attitude, is in clear need of a damn good kicking.

The coming of winter

The clocks changed at the weekend. The days have been getting noticeably shorter for some time, and it is full dark now when I leave work in the evenings. Edinburgh is at latitude 55°N (ish), which puts us about 1200km (760 miles) away from the Arctic circle. That might sound like a lot, but it means we only get about seven hours of daylight at midwinter.

Trying to look on the bright side of this, going to work in in the mornings, with the sun rising after 8 o’clock, can be extraordinarily beautiful. We live on the South side of the city, which, on a clear morning, gives us a lovely view of dawn breaking over the Pentland Hills. And it’s a curious but fortuitous feature of Edinburgh’s micro-climate that even when the day turns out dreich, the mornings often start off crisp and clear.

In November of last year I was cycling to work in Dalkeith just a few miles away, and I regularly found myself stopping by the side of the road to watch the raking light spread over frosty fields. There was a particular spot that I loved, on the bridge over the river Jewel, where ghostly whirls of mist drifted lazily over the water’s surface. Craggy trees lined the banks, their trunks still in the shade, but their branches glowing like molten gold. With cars whizzing by right next to me, looking down on this was like staring into a magical other world.

I treasured that beauty throughout each day. It was my Happy Place when things got bad.

With George Bush in the White House for a second term of office, we will surely see a winter of a different sort descend on the US. For us foreigners it is easy to question and curse the stupidity of a country capable of electing such a leader. But it is also easy to forget that approximately half the population of the US is just as–if not more–strongly opposed to his policies and hegemonic rule as the rest of the civilized world.

We must not forget that the US is a nation of many different states, and hundreds of millions of individuals. The Republican Party may be its current political figurehead, but when we visit the place called “America”, we don’t visit the country as a whole: we visit California, or Massachusetts, or New York. When we talk to “Americans” in everyday life, we’re not talking to members of a brainwashed clone army: we’re talking to friends, family, Bob at the office, or Carol behind the counter at Starbucks. Individuals with hugely diverse opinions and desires, even though they may belong to the same political party.

If you need a Happy Place to see you through the darker days of the next four years, think of an American individual you like, love, admire, or respect. Then think of five more. Then a dozen, or a hundred. Then realize: these people are not just Americans, they are America.

I’m not suggesting that Bush’s opponents and critics, both at home and abroad, should just shrug, and try to make the best of a bad result. Not at all. But the opposite reaction–turning away in disgust from the apparent futility of political engagement, or losing faith in the cognitive abilities of the American electorate–is a much more certain road to further defeats two, four, ten years further down the line. To carry on the fight, you have to remember what you’re fighting for.

On an even more positive note, here are three reasons why a Bush victory might well be a good thing:

  • The Bush presidency has had a unifying effect on Europe: he’s a hate-figure to rally around. With ten new countries in the Union, and the new European Constitution just agreed, but not yet ratified, we’re going to need all the unity we can get in the next few years.
  • Here in Britain, Tony Blair is going to take a political knock from his closeness to the Bush administration, and from his failure to endorse Kerry. With a general election expected some time next year, it would be pretty sweet if this would pull enough of the rug from under the Labour party to force a coalition government.
  • The US dollar is going to head even further down the toilet. For us Europeans planning holidays in America, exchange rates are going to rock!