Tag Archives: London

London Bridge

Why would anyone attack London?

London – without a doubt the most inclusive, diverse, welcoming, international, politically informed and intellectually engaged place I have ever lived – and I’ve called a fair few places home.

London – where voices can be heard, and arguments can find both informed support and intelligent dissent.

Why would anyone attack the very people that would willingly hear them out? Listen to their opinions without prejudice? Help them – or help them see another way?

Why would they have their children attack our children?

Religion can be a source of great love and community. I have seen this particularly in Europe and in South America – whole communities coming together, regardless of background or ethnicity or sexual orientation, to celebrate one another and support each other. The religion of these communities is not orthodox or radical or extreme. They do not hold up an ancient text written by different people living in a different community at a different time as the literal word of god. They take the tenets of that text – whatever the creed, it is some form of ‘be good to one another’ – and they live by them every day.

Religion can also be repulsive. I have seen this too – in other parts of Europe, in the United States, in Indonesia and in the Arab world. Communities divided by fear and misunderstanding. People persecuted for things that are beyond their control – who they love; their gender; the religion of their parents; abuses at the hands of others. Their religious communities take those ancient tenets and twist them to fit a modern context of their own invention. Their texts are not proclamations of universal love, but bitter rules about who to hate.

When people feel persecuted, they retaliate. But who had persecuted the terrorists who attacked London last night? They did not lash out at politicians, the military, religious leaders, members of their own communities they felt had abandoned them. They lashed out at regular people, civilians, the young. This was the third attack in three months. And like their fellow extremists, these three men had no arguments, no thoughts, no ideas. They had only weapons and a worthless desire to die.

You do not destroy us with your hateful acts of violence. You bring us together, in all our astonishing diversity. You do not make us hate you. You make us question what has made you hate yourselves so much.

We feel sorry for you. You feel alone, persecuted and desperate.

Your acts are upsetting to us primarily because they are pointless. Six civilians dead? In a city like London, probably not even all British? You gave up your lives for that?

For what?

A bit of back channel applause on Twitter?

Killing a handful of people in this glorious city does nothing for you or your cause. If you want to effect real change, you should stop attacking us – and try talking to us.

I defy anyone – whatever their history – not to find an open ear in London.

Thank you, Mr President

I have been thinking a lot about prejudice. Brexit, and now the election of Donald Trump, have made me really question what prejudice is, what I experience in my life, and what it means for others around the world.

I live in a melting pot of a city. I don’t describe London as a tolerant society; tolerance implies you don’t like something but you’re not going to throw your toys out of the pram about it. It’s a diverse and largely integrated society.

I know for a fact that there are people in London who experience racism; there are women who experience sexism; there are members of the LGBTQ community who experience homophobia or transphobia; there are disabled people who experience discrimination. But in London, a vast and populous city, prejudice pretty much goes down like this:

99% of the population is fine. Doesn’t discriminate. Doesn’t care about something as inconsequential as your skin colour or accent or who you fuck or how you walk. At worst they’re unclear how to help you in a particular circumstance, or speak to you about a particular issue, in case they inadvertently do or say something you find offensive. But confusion is not the same as prejudice.

But every now and then, someone is a dick. You see it, and a lot of other people around you see it too. Sure, what the dick said or did hurts you for a time – but all those other people, they’re on your side. And the person who comes off worst in this scenario is the dick.

That’s my experience of prejudice. I see it happen, but far more often I see it not happen. When it does happen, the vast majority finds it unacceptable. And if we don’t give the words or actions of the dicks amongst us credence, they don’t have all that much of an impact.

Prejudice is something that happens infrequently, and can be shaken off.

In a city as populous as London, ‘infrequently’ can mean fairly frequently in a chronological sense, of course. Someone might experience racism once a day – but in a city where you encounter literally thousands of people every day, that’s a statistically small part of your life. That’s a different subject, for a different time.

Right now I want to talk about the sort of people who elected Donald Trump as president – a man who calls Mexicans rapists and wants to ban Muslims from entering the US. They don’t experience prejudice in the same way as I do. For these people, prejudice is pathological. They are not isolated dicks – they’re the majority. They are not challenged and ignored – they have the popular vote. The people they abuse don’t experience prejudice infrequently – they experience it habitually.

And no one wants to be the only gay (or black, or Muslim, or woman, or disabled person…) in the village, if they can help it.

So the persecuted Muslim man leaves his bigoted home town – leaving no one there to challenge prejudice and show the bigots that there are more similarities than differences between him and them and there’s nothing to be afraid of. The bigots’ lack of experience grows, and turns to a lack of understanding, then fear, then intolerance, then inexplicable anger and violence. Meanwhile the Muslim man has moved to an integrated society such as London – where his existence changes nothing – or to a less diverse community such as a suburb of Birmingham but where he is in the majority – where his existence changes nothing, and the very existence of that community seems to feeds the fears of the society he left.

But on a personal level the Muslim man feels safer and happier. And the bigots in the town he left also feel safer and happier. So it’s win win.

Only it isn’t. It clearly isn’t.

I don’t understand the bigotry of people who don’t live in an integrated society expressly because I do live in an integrated society. And this is why events like Brexit and the US presidential election have taken people like me by surprise. I had no idea how the disenfranchised masses felt. I could not and still really cannot conceive of irrational prejudice on such a massive scale. I am stunned that white middle class men – for they are the astonishing majority here – could ever feel they were being treated like the underdogs. I cannot wrap my brain around the selfish nationalism that has allowed this to happen. Here. In the US. Across Europe.

People have made associations between Donald Trump and Hitler; between Trump and various African dictators; between Trump and Putin. And with pretty good cause, if you listen to their rhetoric.

I understand that some people desperately wanted change. But I cannot grasp a desperation so deep that they would vote for Donald Trump.

But I believe that the key now is not vilifying people for their prejudices, but trying to understand where they’ve come from. Instead of building a wall, Donald Trump should be travelling through Mexico. Instead of banning Muslims, he should be sitting down and talking to Muslims.

Instead of dividing societies we should all be trying to come together.

Not all differences of opinion can be overcome. But the ones born simply of ignorance can.

If anything good comes from the current global political shift, I hope it’s greater communication. I don’t think I am alone in wanting to understand.

 

On yer Boris bike

It’s hard for many Londoners to understand why Brexit happened. Maybe its because we live in a one of the world’s most truly international cities, the hub of so many European and global businesses, and we see the benefits of an international outlook and pan-cultural cooperation every day at work and in our communities. Maybe its because we live in the shadow of Westminster and are familiar with a wider spectrum of political thinking than other regions. Maybe it’s because we’ve already had Boris as a leader and Christ on one of his bikes, did the rest of you think you were missing out??? I don’t think its because the rest of England is stupid, or racist – though this is an actual conversation I had in the northeast:

Them: We were forced to leave the club because some darkies showed up.

Me: Wait – what??

Them: Yeah, it was a shame.

Me: You seriously can’t use the word ‘darkies’.

Them: What are you supposed to call them then – coloureds?

But then things get reported in the papers like “Cornwall votes for Brexit then pleads to keep EU funding;” and we put our faces in our hands and think what part of leaving the EU wasn’t clear? And Nigel Farage says, “The side of my bus said let’s keep the £350 million a week we give the EU and fund the NHS instead – it didn’t say we’d give them the whole £350 million;” and we put our faces in our hands and think of course it didn’t say that, did anyone actually think it did? And the pound drops to its lowest level since 1985 and people are shocked; and we put our faces in our hands and think but literally every single economist in this country and outside of this country said the pound would drop, how has this come as a surprise?

Advocates for remaining a part of Europe included the country’s brightest politicians, economists, scientists, business leaders, manufacturers and artists. Advocates for leaving included UKIP, the BNP, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. That’s why we Londoners thought this was a no brainer.

Is Europe going to stop trading with the UK? Of course not, we’re countries not 10 year olds – but losing guaranteed access to Europe as a marketplace and having to negotiate deals is not necessarily going to work in our favour. Are big job creating tax paying businesses going to pull out of the UK? Why wouldn’t they, if the UK is a European hub – because a European hub should be in Europe, duh. Will the UK be stronger? Well we’ll be the only fish in a tiny pond, so kind of – but as opposed to a big fish in a glorious pond, which is much better in my mind. It would be a bit like if Texas left the United States, which is what’s being proposed on Twitter today. The rest of the world is still going to view the other 49 states as the powerhouse, and Texas will be reduced to being just Texas. But maybe Texans would think of themselves as better off through independence. I don’t know, are Texans as stupid as the British?

Narrow minds, and national identity over our place in the world as a whole, are not things that factor into day to day London life. It’s a city where diversity is celebrated; where people are curious of other cultures, not afraid; where politics are important and present. Where we see in practice every single day how being a part of Europe makes us stronger as a nation. Are there problems in the EU? Huge ones – but they could be overcome. Is the EU going to succeed? Possibly not as it is – but it’s not doomed to certain failure. The London I live in doesn’t run away from problems, it comes together and tries to fix them – look at the way the city unites in the wake of tragedy like 7/7 or Orlando, for Pride, or to protest injustice. The UK I’ve just witnessed leave the EU saw a problem and bailed. It’s not even a selfish move – it’s a shot-ourselves-in-the-foot selfish move.

In so many ways, London is not the UK. Today, 24 hours after Brexit, there are calls for London to secede, and today I wish that was a thing that could plausibly happen. But only if we could relocate the House of Commons, mind – maybe to Cornwall.

Because we Londoners know Boris. He’s less the saviour who will surely lead us to greatness, and more the buffoon who will almost certainly lead us to global insignificance.

Good luck everyone.

AS 25-06-16