We returned to London on Sunday morning, for Faith’s (successful) US visa interview. Obviously there was disruption on the tube, but we were neither fazed nor daunted by passing through Edgware Rd to our hotel in Paddington. As the tabloids splashed tales of precedent, my overwhelming impression of the atmosphere in London was one of defiance, and normality. It appears that England has now encountered suicide bombers on home soil, but I fail to see how life has changed in any fundamental sense. We have not become exposed to a new type of terror; regardless of the destiny of the bomber, every vehicle, rubbish bin or building is (and for a long time has been) a potential target. We sat for a beer outside Alexander Fleming’s local, wondering if our sense of safety was any less than it had been back on Wednesday. A quick memory of Admiral Duncan, and of course nothing has changed. We - a free and open society – will always be targeted, and we will always persevere.
As most Filter^ readers will know, I am a passionate advocate of free trade, and that means that I believe people should be free to cooperate with others regardless of their nationality. Any form of managed trade will inevitably attempt to shift wealth from some groups to others – whether that group is defined by occupation or nationality – and burden the importance of nationality and borders. Free trade campaigners see borders as nothing more than arbitrary political fault lines, and that characteristics of individuals should be treated with more attention than the characteristics of groups. In other words, that human rights should take precedence over national interests.
I say all this to underline my concept of nationality. “Britishness” to me means nothing more than a sort of soft patriotism we feel at a school sports day: cheering for someone - or something - is fun in itself, but we should never attach more significance to it than that. And we should certainly be open minded as to who belongs to this “Britishness”, and the terms within which we define it. I have a varied cultural background, and feel at ease dabbling with different patriotisms (some have called me a mongrel), so when we’re dealing with a “nation”, I have a very flexible conception.
Over the last few days I’ve received messages from friends in America and Romania, sending me condolences. It’d be brutish and churlish to not play along, but by accepting gestures of goodwill, on behalf of England, I’ve been feeling very unlike my usual position. When this is coupled with the fact that I’ve spent the last few weeks living in Bucharest – a city without much cultural diversity – I found myself encounter an obscene and embarrassing frame of mind, which I shall share.
On Monday morning I went into a corner shop just yards from Travestock Place to buy a few items, and was served by Muslim lady. My initial reaction was to go into mourning mode, and graciously accept her sympathy for what had happened to my country. Fortunately it only took a millisecond to realise that I’d been suffocated by how the media has been mutilating our “national sympathy”, and had been momentarily transformed from a multicultural humanist into an ignorant bigot. She was clearly a Londoner – someone who lives in the city, works there, and was maybe even born there (but that’s wholly irrelevant.) I was trespassing on her grief. I’d been duped into thinking that because I was born on this island, and am white, that somehow I was somewhat affected. The fact - and this is a beautiful fact – is that millions of people live in and visit London: it is one of the most cosmopolitan, diverse, lively, I dare say free cities in the world. All sense of nationality becomes obsolete. Pausing at one of the bombsites to read messages and gaze at photos of the missing one is struck by the almost perfect political correctness of the victims. Advertisements all tend to make sure that they have each and every minority represented, lest they be accused of racism. We’ve all become happily immune to the oddness of seeing a white man, and black man, a women, an asian, a homosexual and a rambler…. all acting as best mates and wearing nice sweaters….
But the photos of the missing actually do provide a pretty spectacular cross section of society. The victims are indiscriminate, bound purely by their location. The bombing, apparently, backfired.