22.6.08

Two cities, or that's what it feels like

Article World - 8 July 2005

I was taking a break in the Lake District recently, when I heard the news of London’s successful 2012 Olympic bid. I returned the following day to the contrasting news of terror in London, blitzed by four bombs, striking four parts of our capital city.

Contrast is an understatement. The crowd that gathered at Trafalgar Square, awaiting the decision from Singapore, was redolent of the VE parades in 1945, and the potent people power of the occasion was also similar to that of sixty years ago. A cruel twist of fate now places the Square in the same mood as the Atocha railway station in Madrid and Ground Zero in New York.

Developing these two examples, it is interesting to note that, unlike after 9/11, there has (so far) been no reactionary surge in visceral nationalism, nor has there been (again, so far) a backlash against our political leaders, as seen in Spain after March 11. Instead, London’s response to the attacks on Thursday denies any political motive, instead treating it as a natural disaster. People are subdued, but have not been provoked to anger, nor over-defensiveness.

You may be able to draw evidence from other articles for my cynicism and, some might say, ignorance of terrorism; something I believed was a pretext for the curtailment of civil liberties. Freedoms of speech and the right to trial have been some of the fundamental liberties I have mentioned in the context of terrorism in this country.

I have always remained utterly opposed to the Prevention of Terrorism Act in its entirety, and I recognise in light of recent events that freedom does indeed come at a price. We must fight to uphold our liberties that more than 52 people have died to protect, and continue to live without fear in our daily lives. We as a nation have lived through centuries of war, the blitz in the 1940s, the constant IRA threat during recent decades and this new menace is no different.

Clive Stafford-Smith is deeply committed to gaining and improving civil rights in America, though he was born and educated in England. He is also a defence lawyer. He too denies that the environment post-9/11 has been artificially engineered as a climate a fear, or “an aura of endless threat”. He asked me in a recent lecture, quite off-the-cuff, “do you believe that the country we live in today is more dangerous than it was ten or twenty years ago?” I replied with a typical “no”. He then progressed to describe the kind of environment he believes can be achieved in the next ten years: “Gitmo will be closed (and that is not a dream). But the other US lawless enclaves will be gone. Torture will be back in the history books where it belongs instead of the current agenda, and the West will pull in its 9/11 horns in recognition that we have been forcefully destroying everything we stand for.”

It is a terrible shame that this catastrophe has occurred when the city, and the nation, were celebrating. Let us not forget, but continue marvelling in the victory, whilst keeping an eagle eye over the status of our civil rights. It may be hard, but we've been here before, and we'll be here again.