(No) Panic In The Streets Of London


“Panic on the streets of london
Panic on the streets of birmingham
I wonder to myself
Could life ever be sane again?”
Panic by The Smiths

On the one year anniversary of the death of my beloved uncle, Bhanu Benjamin Persaud, comes tragic news from London, England. Terrorists, seemingly with a connection to al Qaeda, have detonated six simultaneous explosions in the London tube, so far killing 33 and injuring 345.

This is, of course, horrible horrible news. Who among us does not have family or friends in London? It is one of my most favourite places in the world, and I was just there a couple of months ago.

Already, the predictable voices are shouting, “See? This is why we must fight the ‘War on Terror’!” and, unbelievably, “This is why we went to war in Iraq!” That’s some strange logic. Yes, terrorism must be addressed. No one knows better than the British, who endured generations of IRA attacks and, before that, “insurgencies” by a host of less famous groups. Guy Fawkes, the namesake of Britain’s most popular day, was himself a terrorist, remember? The question is, of course, how must terrorism be addressed? More military action? Yeah, that works. Surely, someone is able to make the possible connection between waging war on a country that posed no threat to the UK (I’m talking about Iraq, people) and suffering “blowback” from pissed off Muslim extremists.

No, as I (and a thousand other people) have been saying since the morning of September 11, 2001, the only way to combat terrorism is to remove its root: perceived wrongful treatment. Those who planted these bombs must be found and prosecuted; they are murderous criminals who deserve the wrath of the British people. But please do not use this as an excuse to accelerate the very policies which are fueling the irrational rage underlying such criminal behaviour. Get out of Iraq and finance its reconstruction. Stop propping up two-bit dictators in Middle Eastern and developing nations. Pull your army bases out of other people’s countries. And that’s just a start.

Now is a good time to see whether the xenophobic response to 9/11 was strictly an American cultural phenomenon. Let’s see how the British people respond. London is one of the finest, most multicultural and outward-looking cities in the world. They, unlike pre-2001 New Yorkers, know what it is to be attacked and understand their position in the world. I have faith that they will not panic and lash out against the world like the Americans did.

My good friend Mieke, who lives in London, sent this missive this morning:


“I just walked home from work in the pouring rain — there are a lot of stranded people but not much panic.”

Meanwhile another friend, Catharine, SMS’d me to say:


“I was cycling through central London when the explosions were going off. Am shaken but not stirred.”

We do live in fascinating times.