Sunday, November 16, 2008

Being Prepared ?

It is perhaps my recent viewing of "Spooks", the lightweight but highly entertaining BBC drama on the British security services that has heightened my imagination when walking about London. Most of the plot in the latest series of Spooks has been around the security services battling to stop various Al Quaeda plots in London.

Like millions of people, my journey to work was interrupted during the last major terrorist attack in London on July 7th, 2005. I count myself fortunate to have been nowhere near any of the four bombs that day. However even nearly 3 and a half years on, I find myself edgy on my thankfully infrequent underground journeys around anyone who looks both to be obviously muslim and carrying significant baggage. Of course it is prejudice but I don't feel it is entirely irrational. For instance, I would be completely at ease sharing a tube carriage with a sikh carrying a large rucksack or indeed a muslim carrying nothing more than the morning paper. My unease is very specific and depends upon at least 2 conditions being met.

On Friday, I took a lunchtime walk out to Bishopsgate in the City. A large group of school children were blocking access to the pedestrian crossing I wanted to use and then an arab looking man, complete with full beard apppeared with a large black "hold-all" bag which he proceeded to rummage in. Despite being out in the open, the fact I was stuck waiting for the school party to clear while a man with the "right" criteria started rummaging in a large bag immediately put me into an episode of "Spooks". The stupidity of the situation was that I was not sufficiently convinced of my fears to:

a) Do anything towards the arab looking man
b) try to move the school group along more quickly or
c) get out of the way myself.

In reality I knew that, despite my fear, this man was unlikely to pose a threat. Nonetheless I was slightly alerted. When the school group cleared, I crossed the road and saw the same arab looking man crossing with me, still fiddling in his bag. I made a beeline into Tescos where I was aiming to go all along and was relieved the man did not come in too.

At the last minute, I saw his rummage rewarded, and he produced a bottle of Lucozade from the bag. My fears, such as they were, being proved misguided. However I doubt I am the only Londoner who thinks like that.

It is stories like this which warn of the potential for a major terrorist incident in the "Obama transition" period that keep the fear levels bubbling away. Three and a bit years ago, before I started this blog London suffered significant terrorism. There is every reason to think that it could happen again sometime. Therefore, tolerant as most Londoners are, I think many people in this city still get a bit nervous when stuck next people that fit their personal mental image of what a terrorist looks like. Spooks isn't helping either !


Rositta said...

I have to say it sucks to have to live that way, yet I can't say I blame you. Everyone needs to be a little more away at this time...ciao

Luis said...

Yes I wouldn't want to over state this. London is as safe as most places. We lost over 50 people in the 2005 attacks but no other attrocities to date.

Not that they haven't tried. June 2007 saw two failed car bombs, planted by doctors if you can believe it. Thankfully they failed to go off. My son was being born at the time so we had other things to think about then anyway.

Considering London has more or less every nationality living here we are pretty harmonius all things considered.