It’s all a long time ago now isn’t it? All of three days since someone put a bomb on a London Underground train and then stepped out of the carriage. Thankfully the detonator went off without managing to trigger the main bomb, which isn’t a mistake we can hope for every time. 30 people were injured on the District Line on Friday morning. But if the bomb had done what it was meant to do then those 30 people wouldn’t have been treated for relatively light injuries. Instead, bits of their remains would have been gathered together in some order and put into the dozens of body bags ordered for them and others at Parsons Green station.
It remains strange how fast we pass over all of this. Of course other stories come along. Some – such as the inevitable swift diversion story (this time provided by a Tweet from President Trump) – are connected. Others – such as Conservative leadership gossip would have come along anyway. But it’s strange nonetheless. A society that wasn’t entirely fatalistic about what it was going through, or not so wholly lacking in answers, would have some response to this. Ours just notes it, and moves on with a touch of ostentatious, feel-good, tea-drinking coverage and tired Blitz-chat as an attachment.
What we fail to recall is that while ‘Keep calm and carry on’ was fine advice for the citizenry of London during the nightly destruction of the Blitz, Britain didn’t win World War II simply by the daily expression of taciturn stoicism. While the citizenry of London were being exhorted to remain calm and unbothered, their service men were in the skies flattening whole German cities.
But in this conflict, and with a far less severe but still relentless form of terror, we don’t know where the German cities might be this time or what we should do if we found them. What can we do other than bear this? If you are a member of the Labour shadow cabinet you can pretend that people only put explosive devices onto the London underground because of Tory cuts. And you can pretend that if you were in power you would find the money to pay for policemen to better hunt down the followers of an ideology you don’t dare identify. But otherwise it’s a vacuum out there. We all just have to hope it doesn’t happen on our line.
Someone called Sean O’Grady at that sorry rump of a former publication still called the Independent demonstrated just how much this is the case yesterday. As the headline to his piece said (in that brilliantly hectoring style some millennials mistake for the persuasive register): ‘Focusing on whether the Parsons Green bomber was a refugee is shamelessly Islamophobic, not to mention pointless.’
He goes on to ‘argue’ that:
‘We will not stop terrorism by kicking blameless families of refugees out of the country. This only radicalises would-be terrorists into thinking they are defending their own communities.’
I’ve no idea how O’Grady knows this. I’d wager that he doesn’t. As he goes along he just makes up certainties that fit his existing pieties.
Anyway, while recognising that it is shameless to type out the facts of this case, here I go anyway.
The two people so far arrested for their involvement in Friday’s attack are a 21-year old Syrian and an 18-year old Iraqi. The latter was not only a refugee but appears to have been looked after by a foster family in Surrey. If these two men do turn out to be the culprits then we can expect a number of things.
Unlike events some weeks ago at, say, Charlottesville (which is on another continent), blame for events in London on Friday will not be allowed to spill out anywhere. Probably not even onto the culprits themselves. They will be described as ‘boys’ or ‘young men’ or ‘kids’. We will hear about how they were ‘pushed’ to their actions in some way. If their country of origin was one we were militarily engaged in (Iraq) this will be deemed a contributing factor. If their country of origin is a country we have not been militarily engaged in (Syria) this will be deemed a contributing factor.
There are other ways in which we will wonder how our society failed our bombers. Politicians and the media will ponder whether they had a good enough foster family. Or whether they got their dream job at the first opportunity, like everyone else in our society does. And all the while people like O’Grady will try to patrol the boundaries, pointing out that any discussion of the facts is ‘Islamophobic’ and ‘pointless’.
Perhaps I might issue a note of warning to such people. Imagine the detonating device had worked on Friday. Think about what happens when it works next time. And the time after that. And imagine that instead of engaging in a reflex defence of all refugees you are instead staring at the photos of people of every age and background who just happened to have the misfortune to be commuting through Parsons Green last Friday. In other words, imagine what happens when being indeterminately ‘generous’ and ‘open-hearted’ stops looking cute and begins to look like you were just unforgivably lax with the security of your fellow-citizens for nothing more than short-term ideological reasons. In other words, imagine what happens when there is a political price to pay rather than just brownie-points to collect.
Because that day will come. It wasn’t Friday. But it will be another day, sooner or later. And wouldn’t it be a good thing to be ready for that day when it comes?