London Calling


Michael J. Prest
“London calling to the faraway towns, Now war is declared and battle come down”

I once met Joe Strummer. He was the son of Ronald Mellor, a British Foreign Service diplomat. His brother, David, joined the National Front and later committed suicide sometime in 1970. Mick Jones and Paul Simenon always seemed more authentic to me and later were to become my neighbours. Along with Topper Headron all four formed The Clash and LONDON CALLING, a call for action written in 1979 is forever etched in the annals of greatest songs written.

With yet another incident; a terrorist incident, some would say that the UK is at war or in fact, under siege. With the latest mowing down of innocent people by a white van at London Bridge and the random stabbings thereafter at Borough Market, pandemonium broke on Saturday 2nd June and all these so soon after Manchester Arena and heartless Salman Abedi. We all remember the horror of Manchester and which parent couldn’t relate to the fear that must have gripped fathers, mothers, aunts, brothers and sisters as they tried to work out permutations to safety. Some made it, sadly several did not. Weeks earlier, we saw the Westminster attack and so in London alone, three attacks and we are only in June. To all who lost their lives, may their souls rest in peace.

London is calling and as the capital city, it’s calling all the far away towns. War is declared and battle has come down. Yet London is a city of everyone. Black, white, Asian, Chinese, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jews, African, East European, American, you name it. London is everyone’s city. The mayor is a trained solicitor born into a working-class Sunni Muslim family of Pakistani immigrants. You don’t get more diverse than that and just like Manchester, Paris, Berlin, New York, LA and even Nice these are cities full of people of all colours, all religions, all ideologies. So as my children’s generation say: “WTF, we don’t have beef with anybody.”

So what is happening? Can anyone really tell us why? Can anyone really pinpoint what started all this?
Politicians, religious leaders, military heads, Christiane Amanpour, Farid Zakharia and security pundits on every conceivable network have all thrown in their lot in trying to identify the cause and tell us, the panicking public the why and the wherefore for these terrorist attacks. Big government has increased its budgets and the world is literally spending billions trying to keep its citizenry safe. The police are doing their absolute best yet they seem hapless as the reality is that they are over stretched and are having to prioritise where they monitor because this new threat is a multi-headed hydra of copycat incidents looking for soft targets all over the UK.

It’s tragically almost becoming impossible to handle. Whilst we must be forever grateful to the men and women engaged in traditional intel, counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism and whilst this has clearly stopped to a near zero the top-line threats, how do you know or how can you stop the neighbour or family down the road whose kids went to school with all of us and yet one day woke up and felt okay killing you and I or our children whilst they go about enjoying themselves and living life? How do we stop that? Since when has living been a crime punishable by gruesome death?

Whoever wins Thursday’s UK election, I know they will have to address their minds to what seems to be this new normal. I don’t envy them and whether that is Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn or a coalition of Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon, they need to meaningfully deal with this. Mark Rowley, The Commissioner of Police is trying to manage the narrative and assuage the public’s fear: seven victims killed in terror attacks, three assailants shot dead. Praise him and his men and women as they responded in eight minutes. Danger does not ring a bell. Praise all the emergency first responders, praise their bravery and selflessness.

If things aren’t brought under control, these incidents become etched in everyone’s mind as the new norm and the new benchmark for London. That will, along with Brexit chase people who don’t have need to be in London away and London and UK life will be less rich and house prices will collapse as the city loses its mantle as everyone’s city and becomes a bleak cauldron of fear and suspicion.

London is calling but it seems its calling for new thinking and a new robust approach to this problem. It may well mean a further loss in civil liberties but London is under siege and a loss in civil liberties may well be worth the trade-off. The contract of democracy is one where the people vote in a government and in exchange the government promises to keep us safe. If governments cannot keep people safe, herald the breakdown in democracy.

I cannot be sure what causes these incidents, what I am sure is that as a father I don’t feel at peace when my teenage children are out and now constantly worry. I feel that is felt by many. I don’t think the answer to the problem is simple or the causes necessarily binary. I don’t see the war against terrorism as being linear, nor one-dimensional. At least, that is, if you want to get to the root cause or causes. It feels maybe it should be, but it is not and there is no silver bullet or a one-answer solution. If I am wrong on this, then please someone point me in the right direction.

As far as I can see we need to re-think this one.
In re-thinking things two incidents come to mind. On December 30th 2006 The Washington Post reported that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was hanged in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday for crimes against humanity in the mass murder of Shiite men and boys in the 1980s. He was sent to the gallows by a government backed by the United States and led by Shiite Muslims who had been oppressed during his rule, Iraqi and American officials said. The second, several years later in 2011 news media showed a video containing the final bloody moments of Muammar Gaddafi’s life. Libya’s deposed leader was pulled out alive from a drain under a motorway in Sirte, the city of his birthplace, where he had been hiding with a small group of bodyguards.

Since the demise of these two, terror, terrorism, suicide bombing, female suicide bombers and Islamic terrorism seem to have become part of the lexicon of life. People, young people now know the drill when the terrorist attacker comes. We saw that in Manchester and we saw that again in London. Who knows whether Saddam or Gadaffi, could have continued to keep a lid on the ‘pent-up radicalisation’ slowly eating the fabric of their own societies and could they continue to keep it within the borders of their fractious states? Should I even be saying that? Indigenes of Iraq and or Libya have stories of brutal atrocities, mass killings, mass burials and we are told, sarin gas attacks? Is it selfish for us to say bring back Saddam, bring back Gadaffi and for heaven’s sake do whatever you need to ensure this scourge of terror is not exported to us in New York, in London, in Paris, in Berlin or even the North-east of Nigeria, Abuja or Bamako in Mali
“London calling to the zombies of death, Quit holding out and draw another breath”

•Prest writes from London

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