July 12, 2005

We are all legitimate targets

Posted in International Economy ·
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Have you ever taken the Tube in London? Can you imagine the scene last Thursday morning: the terror, the smoke, the smell of burning, the heat, the panic, the darkness and the desperation?

What would you have done? Tried to call your wife, boyfriend or children? But there is no signal. People scream for help from a sealed tomb, 200 feet below street level.

The week following the Madrid bombings, I remember being on the Tube and thinking, as I descended deep into the bowels of the earth at Marble Arch, just how soft a target it was. Now the inevitable has happened – and it will happen again. The softest of soft targets has been hit: London’s buses and tubes.

Tony Blair and his mates at the G8 summit in Gleneagles – people who never use public transport – may have been the targets, but everyday Londoners were the victims.

But who are everyday Londoners?

They are us. London is our Manhattan – a huge, throbbing megalopolis on our doorstep. The Irish are the biggest ethnic minority in London, a city of minorities; we are the biggest property investors, and millions of us feel quite at home there.

An attack on London is an attack on Dublin. Despite some of our Irish self-deluded notions, the terrorists who carried out this mass murder don’t make any distinction between English or Irish, as the fates of Ken Bigley and Margaret Hassan made clear.

They don’t care whether you are Spanish, French, Scottish or Welsh – this is the lesson of London. We – that’s you and me – are somebody’s enemy. Bizarre as it may sound, someone out there, possibly living among us, hates our tolerance, our wealth and our values.

We are all soft, fleshy targets.

That’s why, in an important sense, London is even worse than September 11.

Of course, thankfully, the numbers will prove to be much lower than New York and Madrid in 2003. But quantity is not everything; nor even is the dramatic flair of hitting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Indeed, London was actually the antithesis of September 11. Instead of striking prominent symbols, the terrorists went for boring buses and tedious trains.

It is precisely the ability to make any bus or train a potential coffin that generates the greatest fear, because anybody and everybody, anywhere and everywhere, is a potential target.

There may be some direct economic effects, such as a moderate fall in tourist numbers. There may also be a modest impact on property values in central London, and some investment decisions in the City might be put on hold.

Indeed, the fact that the bombings occurred at a time when the economy was already showing signs of weakening, just like September 11, may have an amplified impact on consumer spending.

But the real impact will be on us. We will feel heightened anxiety every time we hear “mind the gap”, every time we hop on a London bus or every time we catch the Stansted Express.

There was never any doubt that Thursday’s doings were al-Qaeda’s work; nor can there be any question that this was al-Qaeda’s best work since September 11.

The multiple strike showed that the organisation is alive, very well and very much in business – despite its recent low profile; that it can organise and execute complex operations, apparently wherever it chooses, and that it can paralyse a huge city – and, by extension, neutralise an entire G8 country and inflict heavy economic damage, as well as loss of life.

Al-Qaeda’s message to Bush, Blair and the other self-proclaimed leaders of the world is presented via its actions: we kill en masse, at random and spit in your collective Crusader faces. What are you going to do about it?

Well, what are we going to do? The best impromptu response last Thursday came from Ken Livingstone, who captured the moment by out-Giuliani-ing Rudy Giuliani with an address about resolve, values and determination. Addressing the terrorists head on, he said, basically: �Forget it, lads, your game is up. We are not going to change.�

He said that Londoners would continue getting buses, tubes and trains.

They might be anxious, but they are going to carry on, and while they will think twice about the nervous-looking bloke in the puffa jacket fidgeting at the back of the bus, that is just a fact of life now.

To get an idea of what London might look like in the near future, to appreciate what it is like to be a multicultural nation trying to function in an atmosphere of fear, one might visit Tel Aviv, as several thousand Irish football fans, including myself, did last March.

Tel Aviv is a marvellous city, and we were treated exceptionally well. It was like any other Mediterranean metropolis: loud, brash and hot.

The city faces the sea and all urban life centres on the beach. Like Barcelona, Marseilles or Naples, it is a late-night party town full of clubs, bars and cafes blaring music late into the night. It is also a flamboyantly gay city.

There are scant outward signs that Tel Aviv is a Jewish city at all. Unlike Jerusalem, there are few Orthodox Jews around, while synagogues are, for the most part, invisible.

Although Jewish, Israelis are ethnically an exotic mixture of western Europeans, north Africans, Yemenis, Iraqis and Syrians, as well as Irish, English, Russians, Poles, Americans, South Africans and South Americans.

It is a monotheistic melting pot of a diaspora that brought back the culture, language and customs of the four corners of the earth. Most Israelis are a bit of this and a bit of that.

Unexpectedly, there are more black men in uniform than you will see in most American or British cities, because, due to demographics, the Ethiopian Jews make up a disproportionate number of young soldiers.

In short, Israel is quite the opposite of a unidimensional Jewish country.

Therefore, the overall impression of Tel Aviv – the heart of liberal Israel – is less like the major city of a theocracy and more like a mini-London, where multi-culturalism flourishes and diversity is embraced and encouraged. The occupied territories seem very far away, and, psychologically, they are.

However, get on a bus and all this liberalism and normality evaporates. It is them and us. Global or national politics don’t matter when you are commuting on a bus, tube or train. You are vulnerable and you know it. Anxiety rises; people become agitated, nervous and suspicious.

Despite having my bags checked beforehand, I hopped on the Tel Aviv/Jerusalem bus with a few other Irish football fans last Good Friday morning, and I immediately regretted not getting a taxi.

Together with the other lads, I scanned the faces on the bus, double-checked people getting on at bus stops and felt slightly sick every time anybody made an unexpected move.

This bag-checking and general suspicion was the norm in Belfast’s city centre, shops, hotels and restaurants in the 1970s.

In future, our daily life could become a cross between 21st century Tel Aviv and 1970s Belfast, because what happened in London will happen again – maybe in Dublin next time. Expect identity cards to be introduced in Britain over the next few years, and moves in that direction to be replicated here.

In a strange way, no matter what our personal politics, even if you support the establishment of a Palestinian state immediately, we are all like Israelis now. We need to get used to the fact that, despite our personal views, to someone out there we all look the same. We are all infidels, and we are all legitimate targets.


  1. Aibric

    Actually, Dan, you’re being no less simplistic. They hate
    us because of Israel, not because of Iraq. They “hated us”
    hundreds of years ago for religious and cultural reasons
    which are becoming salient again, primarily because of the
    forced recreation of a Jewish state, but exacerbated by
    terrible economic conditions, which were the result of
    pseudo-socialist and authoritarian Middle Eastern
    governments. Perhaps these fundamental differences in
    religious and cultural outlooks have always been salient,
    but the primacy of the West in all matters kept the middle
    east from being an issue, that is, until technology and
    globalisation made it possible for an arab to easily access
    any western country within a few days, and contain enough
    of a kind of ordinance about his person to ensure the deaths
    of tens, hundreds, maybe thousands of people. But – the
    Brits created Israel, and now it is inhabited by two
    differents peoples, one of which had their homeland
    dispossessed, and the other which now mostly consists of
    people who were not alive when that happened so as to be
    culpable. Hell of a problem, if you ask me, and as a
    Southern American, I wish we didn’t have anything to do with
    it. God, how I hate the 21st century.

  2. Setanta

    Aibric,

    your ignorance of history speaks volumes. the brits no
    more created israel as they did china. israel, if you
    remember your bible, has existed for a very long time.
    palestine, is a roman word to insult the jews, which
    meant “mouth of the devil” a phrase the romans knew would
    insult the israelites.

    the ottoman turks started the forcing out of the ethnic
    arabs (ancestors to the modern day palestinians) due to the
    fact that the jews were richer and more productive. after
    the first war was lost by turkey (being allied with
    germany) israel fell into british hands. the british did
    not favour the jews over the arabs (a myth which appeals to
    our anti british bigotry). if anything they favoured the
    arabs over the jews. the british prevented the jews from
    arming themselves adequately when they were being attacked
    and turned away jews who seeked asylum from nazi germany
    and semitism in europe.

    the forced creation of a jewish state was carried out by
    the united nations who ratified the borders of the country.
    muslim and arab hatred of the jews and israel predates the
    creation of this border and poisons the land still. sure,
    the israelis have carried out barbaric acts, but that does
    not absolve the arabs from their acts too. how many times
    has israel been invaded? (aside:the defence of the golan
    heights by a single armoured batallion against 600 syrian
    (russian supplied) tanks ranks as one of the bravest
    military acts since 4000 greeks defended europe from the
    persians (numbering a reputed 1 million soldiers) at the
    pass of thermopyle! the golan heights were of strategic
    importance to both syria and israel, from these heights,
    syria would be looking down on tel aviv and could use
    artillary to flatten it. the occupation of the heights was
    in direct response to syria’s plans to attack israel’s
    capital)

    i have sympathy for the plight of the palestinians as they
    are pawns used by other arab countries to attack israel.
    even today, 50 years after leaving their homes, they are
    refused residency in the arab nations and are forced to
    live in squalor in the permanent refugee camps.

  3. Paul Rux, Ph.D.

    David, I am teaching a 14-week course on the European
    Holocaust of the Jews online over the summer. One of the
    topics in our course is the definition of “Jew.” Your
    description of Tel Aviv argues against a racial
    definition. I am going to share your excellent article
    with my students; I thank you for this timely teaching aid.

    Paul Rux, Ph.D., Lakeland College Online, Mt. Horeb,
    Wisconsin, USA

  4. Dan Hayes

    David,

    May I supply another reason why someone out there hates us
    other than for “our tolerance, our wealth and out values” –
    namely for the 100,000 or so innocent Iraqi civilians that
    America and our British lackeys have obliterated as
    collateral damage (using the phraseology of Timothy
    McVeigh).

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