Are we all standing united, then? Not letting anything divide us? Not giving way to bigotry or intolerance or hate? And we’re all going to be terrifically brave and go out to vote on Thursday, because that’s what the terrorists don’t want us to do… do they?
When I heard the news about the London Bridge attack, I felt a number of emotions pretty well together. Oh God, not again, was the first, followed by indignation, compassion, sympathy and admiration as appropriate for perpetrators, victims, police, passers by and the have-a-go cab driver. But the very next, perhaps simultaneous, reaction was ennui. Here we go again. Not another attack, not the obligatory responses. Not another day in which we all go through the motions of stating the obvious or concurring in sentiments laid down by other people. Ken Livingstone set out the template for the correct response to Islamist terrorism after the 7/7 attacks, in that celebrated statement in which he declared 'nothing will ever divide us', along with other terrifically inspirational sentiments. Ever since, it’s been exactly the same formula.
Personally, I’m not standing united with anyone I wouldn’t have stood next to anyway. And I think we’re all agreed that we’re going to vote on Thursday exactly as we would have done, or not done, already. Actually, can we put this completely bogus argument to bed right now? No-one seriously imagines we’re going to cancel the election. It’s just stupid. It’s not going to happen. Stop even talking about it.
Neither am I going to think differently about Islam, or Muslims as a result of all this. I am perfectly well aware, thank you, that the victims are very likely to be assisted in hospital by Muslim doctors and nurses who will be nice, compassionate people; indeed I am equally aware that (pace Caroline Lucas) that you are more likely to be treated by a Muslim than attacked by one. Lots of Muslims work in the NHS… do we need reminding? I am not going to feel remotely differently about my nice, civilised Muslim colleagues as a result of all this… of course, it’s going to be Godawful for them, and they’ve got enough to put up with, what with it being Ramadan, and having to go without food or drink in daylight (I suppose, incidentally, the attackers last night will have had the sociable evening meal that follows the end of the day’s fast).
It still isn’t going to alter my view that it is not coincidental that these attacks were carried out by Islamists, because there is a problem about Islam and violence which goes back to the precepts and example of the prophet of Islam. I’ll expand if you like, but I don’t think I need to. Do I need to point out, either, that Sadiq Khan is about as likely to sympathise with these attacks as I am? Do I need to qualify by saying that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceable… I suppose, by the rules, I do.
The other obligatory requirement is that we establish in our own minds what the terrorists do not want us to do and then do the opposite. They do not want us to have fun, or walk on London’s most frequented thoroughfares, or go out to dinner, or vote, or be democratic, or be nice to other religions, do they? So we must do all these things, if necessary attending a concert given by Ariana Grande (and if it weren’t for the circumstances, I’d be pointing out that she sets an awful example to young girls by dressing like a tart; I also take a dim view of her giving up Catholicism because the church isn’t nice enough to gay people). Within reason, I don’t mind any of the above. I’d be quite happy, for instance, to go out to dinner at Rabot 1745, a rather nice restaurant owned by Hotel Chocolat right in the entrance to Borough Market where the jihadists ran amok, and pretend I was doing it in a Blitz spirit. Alas, I can’t afford to.
Instead, I’m going to do exactly what I was going to do anyway in London (go to mass; have lunch at home) and think what I was thinking anyway, and going to work tomorrow just as I was going to anyway, and behaving to people of other religions exactly as I would anyway. I’m not going to stand up to terrorism; I can’t be bothered.