TCS Daily

Cool Britannia

By Tim Worstall - July 7, 2005 12:00 AM

You will, no doubt, by now heard of the terrorist bombings in London. The BBC's site gives a general overview and Nosemonkey at Europhobia has been blogging the different sources and rumors far better than my attempt. There is also a pool of photos at Flickr and Wikipedia is up and running on the subject.

As I write the general outline is that there were six bombs set off on the Tube (London's version of the subway) during the morning rush hour, just before 9 am (yes, it's a late starting city by American standards) and then sometime later, after that system was closed and the buses jammed instead, a suicide bomber blows up a double decker. The latest reports are of 40 to 45 dead, the hospitals claim to be treating 300 injured and there are slightly more dismal rumors of 60 dead and a thousand injured.

Tony Blair has made a speech from the G8 summit:

        "It is important, however, that the terrorists realize our determination to defend our values 
        and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause the death and destruction 
        of innocent people and impose their extremism on the world. It is our determination 
        that they will never succeed in destroying what we have here in this country and in other 
        civilized countries around the world."

The details of what is happening are obviously still changing, as we learn more, from blogs, the mainstream outlets and so on. So I'd just like to add a little personal experience, a few notes from the past, to give you an idea of what the British reaction is and is going to be.

A jihadi group has already claimed responsibility on the internet:

        Jamaat al-Tandheem Al-Sierri (secret organization group) 
        Organization of Qaeda't al-Jihad in Europe 

        In the name of God the most merciful... 
        Rejoice the nation of Islam, rejoice nation of Arabs, the time of revenge has come 
        for the crusaders' Zionist British government. 
        As retaliation for the massacres which the British commit in Iraq and Afghanistan, 
        the mujahideen have successfully done it this time in London. 
        And this is Britain now burning from fear and panic from the north to the south, from 
        the east to the west.

As it happens my wife chose today to fly back to England and at this very moment she is stuck at Gatwick airport as the railways check on a suspect package a little further down the line. She reports that it is very quiet, but that the general mood seems to be one of frustration. No, not that this has happened, not that 40 dead is not a serious matter, but we've been here before. There's an annoyance that the rest of the day is going to be chaos, but "fear and panic from the north to the south" just isn't what is happening.

We've only just come out from a 30 year terrorist campaign in the UK, where pubs and railroad stations, banks and shops were bombed with the most horrible loss of life on occasions. Yet there has always been a general consensus that to allow the murderers to terrify us would be to let them win. Many years ago I worked in The City (the financial district) and there were two events that make a point here. One was a storm which brought chaos to the transport system and the next day the place was empty. Hah! An opportunity to take the day off, no one thought anything of it, it'll be too difficult to get in and out.

Then, a little time later, there was an IRA attack which caused similar disruption to transport as well as a number of deaths. The next day there were more people at work than on a normal day. There was no co-ordination, no orders went out, but the truly sick seemed insistent on dragging themselves into work, mewling and puling infants were farmed out to anyone at all so that parents could turn up. If the trains weren't working, then people used buses. If they were full, then they walked. The attitude seemed to be that sure, we'll take an extra day off if we can, but if you're trying to scare us, if you're going to kill some of us to make us change our ways, well, in the words of my favorite fictional character, "We'll not be having with that."

There're grandmothers in that city bombed today who spent five years of their youth dodging bombs, doodlebugs and rockets while the menfolk were off strangling the enemy with their bare hands. These aren't people that fear and panic easily.

There's one of those "Veddy British" things called the Last Night of the Proms where there is a mixture of classical music and then at the end there are three songs that are always sung, massed choirs, orchestra and the assembled mob all bawling out the words to them. There is the National Anthem, of course, and the two songs that have at times been seriously suggested as alternatives to it. One is Jerusalem, from the poem by William Blake with the last verse:

        I will not cease from mental fight,

        Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand

        Till we have built Jerusalem

        In England's green and pleasant land.

Yes, we do believe a better world can be built. The third song is always thought to be a little too jingoistic for this modern age, it being Rule Britannia. It does indeed grate in some of its verses but the second line of the chorus is:

        Britons never will be slaves.

And I think that's true. I don't think we ever will be slaves. I have no doubt that we can be killed, that we could even be conquered or beaten, but not that we would cower like slaves, give in to threats of further violence. Far from the "fear and panic from the north to the south" there is something very different going on. Yes, of course, there will be the usual idiots making asinine political points (just read the comments sections of the various blogs for that) before the blood of the murdered has even cooled, I have no doubt that fools will blame all Muslims, or those wearing turbans (given the state of the education system it is difficult to blame those who do not realize that Sikhs are not Muslims...a few years back a crowd was so enraged over a child molester that they tried to burn down the house of a paediatrician), when the responsibility belongs to those who carried out the murders, that extreme minority that have twisted Islam so grievously. But my fellow Britons? Give in, give up? No, I don't think so. We'll bury the dead, comfort the bereaved and carry on in the way we know best. The police will chase the terrorists, the military will continue in the War on Terror and us? The last word to Nosemonkey:

        God, us Brits are great. Hardly any panic -- more just getting pissed off that it's going to 
        be a bugger getting home. I love this country sometimes.

The author is a TCS contributing writer. Find more of his work here.


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