July 07, 2005


(c) The GuardianIt's harder to know where to begin today. I was at a workshop all morning and arrived at my office at about 1:00 p.m. I logged in and launched Firefox to read the globeandmail.com. I've been simultaneously enjoying the respite from the Parliament bash-a-thon and silently cursing the non-stop coverage of Karla Homolka.

I wasn't expecting "Terrorists attack London." My stomach turned. A colleague walked in a moment later and asked how the workshop went. When I asked if he had seen the news (not realizing at that point any of the details or how "fresh" the news was), he replied that people seemed desensitized and were talking about it far less than 9/11.

I don't feel desensitized today, I feel shaken. Shaken, upset, horrified, appalled, disgusted, angry, sad, and, of course, helpless and vulnerable -- even after New York, Madrid, Bali, Turkey, Moscow, Beslan, Yemen, Riyadh, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel again and again, and more.

At the same time I wish I were more surprised. I've never for a moment felt reassured that increased domestic security and the offensive elements of the war on terrorism could prevent all further attacks. Moreover, I always wondered why terrorist networks didn't resort to simpler measures. Even today they (al Qaeda?!) did not, really. While 9/11 was particularly "spectacular", the well-coordinated transit attacks in Madrid and now London demonstrate a disturbingly persistent capability.

Still, these attacks are closer to the kind of small-scale terrorist attacks that are much more difficult to defend against. During the Beltway Sniper's siege on D.C./Baltimore/Virginia in late 2002, a professor of mine noted that groups like al Qaeda were learning an important lesson -- no elaborate scheme was necessary to inspire fear. For several weeks, two men had shut down schools, affected commerce and travel, and generally terrorized (despite officials' best efforts to avoid using the word "terror" at the time) several cities and states using a car and a rifle.

None of this is encouraging -- not what happened today, nor the many missteps in the war on terror, nor what is likely to come in the future. There is no obvious solution for how to thoroughly defend the kinds of societies many of us have the good fortune to live in. You can walk right up to the Opera House in Sydney and to the Parliament building here in Ottawa, halfway around the world. Our greatest weakness -- that we are vulnerable -- is also our greatest strength: that we are free in this way and in many others. On Canada Day (July 1), I took a tour of our Supreme Court, and a guard who was running bags through scanners but declined to have us turn out our pockets for cell phones and the like said jovially "We'll take our chances today." Indeed, we take our chances every day, but we must never take for granted -- rather, we must strive to protect and share -- the opportunity we have to take those chances. In a defiant statement to the attackers, London Mayor Ken Livingstone said:

"In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.

They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail."

How very tragic that Londoners were torn so brutally from an Olympian celebration of their city.

How very odd that just a few days ago London competed against New York, Madrid, and Moscow -- all recent victims of brutal, abhorrent attacks -- and now the cities and their nations and their leaders stand together, in empathy and resolve, and declare solidarity.

And how very, very silly that we were preoccupied with the latest English-French snub (Chirac's ridiculous comments on British, and Finnish, cuisine) while somewhere there were fanatics planning to murder innocent Londoners and their guests in their city.

As the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, said, borrowing from a message that resonated around the world on 9/11: "Today, we are all Londoners."

Posted by anatole at July 7, 2005 11:55 PM