Letter from wounded London

Isabel Hilton
7 July 2005


It was a cruel contrast. On Wednesday, Londoners rejoiced at the news that the city had won its bid to host the Olympic games in 2012. Thursday’s front pages were given over to scenes of jubilation. But as those editions reached the newsstands, London was already a darker, grimmer place, as a series of coordinated explosions ripped through its transport network.

The victims are still being rescued. The dead and injured are still being counted. We can only imagine the terror experienced by the thousands who were close to the explosions, some trapped in the darkened tunnels, dazed by the shock of what had overtaken them in the course of a normal journey to work. Millions more suffered that fear that grips the heart until friends and family can be reached. The dread, the deaths, the injuries, the lives devastated – this was London’s story today, as it has been the story of many others in many places, from Baghdad to New York, Paris to Bali, Madrid to Istanbul.

London is a city of diversity and tolerance, a multicultural capital, open, crowded and dynamic. These are the qualities that give it its vitality. The transport system is an easy target. Today the city is at a standstill; emergency services struggle to reach the trapped and the wounded.

Londoners have been stoic in the past in the face of terror. For thirty years the capital was the object of intermittent attack by the IRA: occasionally bombed, frequently disrupted. Each attack is an assault on the city's trust and tolerance, and it would be naive to imagine that these qualities are not at risk. But now is a moment to reaffirm those values - to resist blaming any community or faith for the actions of criminals, to defend traditions of justice, dissent and solidarity - that broad ground on which the democratic citizen stands.

Hundreds of thousands of these citizens have been in Scotland this week, gathering to demonstrate their discontent with the leaders of the G8, to argue for another path, for different priorities, for urgent attention to poverty in Africa and the cataclysmic threat of climate change. They are the voice of the democratic values that terror seeks to destroy.

London is a wounded city today. Other attacks may follow. How should we, democratic citizens, respond? Terror alone cannot destroy democracy, but it can provoke us to do so. It is for the police to find the perpetrators, it is for the citizen to insist that the state must not do what terror cannot, it is for government – however provoked – to honour and defend our liberties.

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