WHERE were you when you heard about 7/7?
Tomorrow is one of those dates which forces us to make a public trauma into a private experience.
It is etched in my mind. I was in Liverpool for work, about to board a metro train when the system was suddenly shut down for “security reasons”. It didn’t take more than a few minutes for the news about the terrorist bombs in London to filter through. I was six months pregnant with my daughter and I felt very vulnerable indeed, standing there on the platform in the sweltering heat of a July day.
As I travelled home, exhausted and still jittery, I remember looking out of the window at the South Yorkshire landscape with relief. I was glad to be almost home. I told myself that whatever atrocities had happened in London that morning, at least we would be safe here, surrounded by our ancient fields and woodlands.
How naïve I was. How naïve we all were back then. Little did we know that it would turn out that our own county, soft and welcoming in the evening sunlight, had raised three of the four terrorists who detonated bombs on Underground trains at Edgware Road, Russell Square, Aldgate and on a bus at Tavistock Square.
These young men had grown up amongst us, gone to school here, played in our fields and woodlands, perhaps even sat beside us on a bus or a train, shouldering their rucksack to the floor.
When this realisation dawned, our collective innocence was shattered with a jolt. No longer could we file away “suicide terrorist attack” under “something committed by foreigners on foreign soil”. Here it was, happening right in our midst by young men we might pass on the street every day.
To our credit, we didn’t panic as a nation. There were no witch-hunts, no mass victimisation of young men of Muslim appearance carrying rucksacks. Once the shock had started to subside, we simply seemed to harden our resolve and got on with daily life. Friends in London played down the terrible events of that July morning, the loss of 52 lives and the hundreds injured. They couldn’t afford to wallow in fear or trepidation, they couldn’t afford to judge, they simply had to get on with daily life in a city teeming with different creeds and cultures.
However, 7/7 was a line in the sand. It was the day that our innocence died. It was also the day that the dream of British multi-culturalism evaporated. How could we continue to subscribe to this ideal, when we could apparently raise young men intent on killing their fellow citizens, including other Muslims, in the name of their faith? This day made us all question just what it means to be British. Each and every one of us, whether we have done it consciously or not, has had to re-examine our values.
Also, we have had to consider how we relate to each other. I saw this especially when I taught at the university in Huddersfield. There were a lot of young people here who had grown up in homes where Muslim was the religion – practised to a greater or lesser degree. These students just wanted to get on with their own lives without being pigeonholed or judged. They didn’t want people to make assumptions about them, to look at them and wonder, “what if”?
What I also witnessed here was a strength and pride in all the positive elements of their culture, a sense that they could overcome atrocities committed in the name of their religion.
Since 7/7, though, we have seen an escalation of murder and violence perpetuated by British-raised terrorists. Need I list the horrific roll-call? Remind everyone of the terrible killing of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich? Recall every plot to bring mayhem and murder uncovered just in time under heavily reinforced anti-terrorism legislation? Bring us right up to date with the list of British citizens who have travelled to foreign lands to fight on behalf of ISIS and myriad other organisations?
We have been forced to evaluate not just what we might do in the event of being caught up in a suicide bomb attack, but what we might do if we discovered that we lived next door to a suicide bomber. This was a thought which never even entered my head that July evening a decade ago when I stared out of the train window at the sun-dappled fields and woodlands. The world my daughter was born into a few months later was already turning into a dangerous and suspicious place. She is growing up asking the kind of questions I could never have imagined being asked, or expected to answer. That is the legacy of 7/7.