Stay safe, London. Stay safe, everyone. It’s nice, isn’t it, as a sentiment, which is just as well because it is the motto du jour of every celebrity who has added his or her mite to what passes as debate on the terrorist attack last Wednesday. And, my goodness, they all piled in: JK Rowling, Katy Perry, James Corden, Neil Gaiman; every man and woman of them, you’ll be pleased to hear, against this sort of thing, and urging us all – especially those not actually resident in London – to ‘stay safe’. The other trope is that ‘nothing will divide us’, that this is what terrorists want – Stella McCartney et al. This is presumably for the benefit of those people whose reaction to the man from Tunbridge Wells is to go out and punch a Muslim. This, too, is to be deplored. The third trope, the speciality of the mayor of the day, in this case, Sadiq Khan – though Ken Livingstone got there first after 7/7 – is ‘London will not be cowed’.
As it happens, I am not particularly cowed; not more so than normal. I’m rather nervous around cars at the best of times, but I’m not more so now because we are reminded that a nutter in possession of one can run lots of people over; that much was apparent after the much worse Nice attack. I do not feel particularly more united to the rest of London as a result of what happened; I should not wish to punch a Muslim on any occasion, thank you, and I do quite realise that the great majority of London Muslims do not feel warmly about the Tunbridge Wells man; quite the contrary. I do have views about the association between Islam and violence – to do with the precepts and example of the prophet of Islam – and I have very strong views about Isis, which I’ll share any time you like, but I am quite capable of seeing that this world view is remote from that of my pleasant and civilised Muslim colleagues. In short, I do not need to be hectored into a fake show of unity and a spurious sense of resolve by celebs who want to make the world a better place, one tweet at a time.
Tell me, someone, what alternative does anyone have to going about their business? After the 7/7 bombings admittedly, I knew a few people who avoided travelling by Tube and who felt nervous when a Muslim with a rucksack entered their carriage – however rough this was on the individual concerned. But I don’t think anyone can actually avoid walking on the streets, though mind you, it’s a gift to the pedestrian-only lobby. What’s the option other than to be a little soldier and go to work and then go home again? Actually, I’d have been furious if I’d been locked up for four hours in Westminster on Wednesday on the say so of the police. It’s just one of those things: in a big city, you can now be blown up or run over by an Islamist fanatic, to no useful end whatever, and unlike most of the IRA attacks, they don’t have the manners to give warnings in advance. It’s grim for the people who were run over by this particular fanatic, but for the rest of us, life goes on. Not because we’re brave but because we have to and want to. That doesn’t make us not-cowed; just normal. And if you want to ‘stay safe’ then do exactly as before: look right, look left, before you cross the road.