Monday, July 11, 2005

My first thought was what a relief all my friends use bikes, so I shouldn’t worry. But then I realized the bus blew up in Tavistock place – 50 meters from my college, and very close the British Library.

I had narrower escapes in the past. March 1996, the Diziengoff Centre in Tel Aviv, I was supposed to be there exactly when the guy blew himself up on the pedestrian crossing; I changed my mind in the last minute. And November 1998, the Jerusalem market. S and Me heard the blast, we were 500 meters away. But I was never closer than this.

On Friday, when I arrived at King’s Cross from Scotland, the station was packed with reporters from all over the world. Bloomsbury area was still cordoned off by the police, and they even had big scaffoldings blocking the view. I guess the bus is still there at Tavistock, and they don’t want people to photograph it. But why is it still there? In Jerusalem they tow the bus after two hours, clean the place up, collect all the body bits and carry on.

I know it might sound harsh. But it’s important to remember that in Iraq these things happen three times a week and they get a small column in the Guardian. Everybody knew this was going to happen – all the security chiefs have been saying that an attack on London is inevitable. And it could have been much worse. The fact that these were probably not suicide bombers explains the low number of casualties (considering these were 4 attacks). I hope it won’t happen again but to be honest, I would be surprised if it didn’t, because sadly, such bombings seem to be a preferred form of 21st century political violence.

Two years ago, perturbed by what seemed a reluctance on behalf of the ISM (the international solidarity movement with Palestine) to speak out clearly against suicide bombings, I tried to think why these things are wrong. I tried to distance myself from my own position, as someone whose friends and family are at constant risk of getting hurt in such attacks. I tried to forget for a minute the anxiety I felt so many times when someone next to me on the bus had this big bag and a strange look on his face. I reminded myself that political violence against civilians is not the monopoly of ‘terrorists’, and it is constantly used by states, perhaps in a different way, but to no less devastating effect. I put aside my preference for non-violent struggle. And I reminded myself that I don’t believe this is a fight of good and evil; that I don’t believe all suicide bombers are pathological monsters or fanatical fundamentalists.

So after all this, why do I still think are these attacks so wrong? First, most simply, they are wrong because they target civilians and not governments: the dividing line between states and peoples, soldiers and civilians, is something that should be kept at all costs; Second, they are wrong because they almost always hit the weaker segments of society – people on busses, people in markets, security guards (the shittiest job on earth, getting blown up to save other people, for minimum wage) – the rich and the powerful, who hide in their cars and gated malls, are rarely hurt. Third, they are wrong because they create an atmosphere of fear and panic, in which reason is not listened to; such atmosphere makes it easier for rightwing warmongers to argue that this is a war of us against them, a clash of civilizations, a fight to the end, all that bullshit. Four, they are wrong because they are anonymous spectacles of bloodshed, with no clear agenda that can be of any help to anybody. Old school 20th century underground political violence ('terror' or 'armed struggle', depends on one’s perspective), e.g. the IRA bombings or the Palestinian attacks in the 1960s, attempted to draw the attention of the media and to put forward specific issues or demands. Whatever one thinks, e.g., of the 1972 attack on the Israeli team to the Olympics, the target was a symbol of the Israeli state, and the hijackers made clear demands and ultimatum (release of prisoners and so on). They were not suicidal. The emphasis of 21st century terror is not on clear agenda as on carnival of destruction. Their anonymity is what enables Tony Blair to claim today that the attacks were not caused by British involvement in Iraq: “these things could have happened anyway”. It’s hard to prove him wrong because the people behind the attacks are not interested, so it seems, to communicate their motives to the Western public.

What will be the reaction of British public opinion? Probably not a patriotic wave like in the US after 9/11. I simply can’t see the British putting Union Jacks on every house. It’s not their style. And sooner or later questions about the War will be asked. The War was never popular here. So will it go the way it did in Spain? It’s hard to tell yet. At the moment it seems like everybody’s in denial. They even try to avoid the word ‘attack’ or ‘bombings’. They call it "the incidents" or "the events in central london". You can always trust the English to use euphemisms.

The British should pull out from Iraq, regardless of what happened on Thursday. But it will be depressing to think that a few cowardly attacks on innocent people made them do it, while a resolute majority against the war, and a march of one million people (February 2002) could not stop it in the first place. Not the best way to promote confidence in Western democracy, is it?

Sorry I didn’t mean this to be a long political spill.

I will soon write about my experiences in the G8 protest.

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