- Living in the 7/7 Generation
- The 7/7 Attacks and Their Impact on Terrorism Today
I remember quite vividly the 6th and 7th of July 2005. I was a 9 year old primary school student at the time, and on both days our teacher assembled the whole class to tell us some news. On the 6th it was good news, London had won the right to host the 2012 Olympic games, which was plenty enough to make a class of 9 and 10 year old children very excited, especially after we had all watched the Athens Olympics the year before. The news on the 7th, obviously, was of a different nature- and I doubt that I fully comprehended the effect that it was to have on Britain.
The link between these two events may go beyond just the coincidence of dates, however. 7 years later, as a still sport obsessed 16 year old, I managed to actually attend the London Olympics with my family. We traveled to the park on the tube, fairly oblivious to the police presence on the platforms and arrived at the park where we went through the security gates, with both us and our bags being scanned for potential threats, while just a few metres away police armed with machine guns stood guard. This is perfectly normal for a major event- and given that the Olympics has been targeted by terrorists previously, somewhat warranted- and I thought nothing of it at the time. Now, however, I begin to wonder whether the events of 7/7 had an effect on the levels of security that day, and how much it has affected our generation as I’ve grown up.
It’s not like we’re the first generation who have grown up with terrorism in Britain. My parents remember the troubles in Northern Ireland and IRA attacks across the country, but those attacks often involved planted bombs and quite often the police were warned by the bombers that an attack was about to take place, a psychological tactic that kept the country on edge. The key difference seems to be that 7/7 introduced Brits to the idea of suicide bombing. Not that we weren’t aware of it before, it’s prevalence since the 1983 Beirut bombings meant that it was reasonably high on the public conscience, but the London attacks were the first suicide bombings in Britain, and with them have brought a change in how we view threats. If you were worried about an IRA bomb, you had to be looking for a suspicious package, if you are worried about a suicide bomber, you are looking for a suspicious person. Obviously, the arguments over whether Muslims in the UK have been more viewed with more suspicion since the 7/7 attacks is a well trodden path, and I don’t particularly wish to get into that argument here, but I think that it is fairly inarguable that for people of our generation if the UK has had an ‘enemy’ it has been in the form of Islamic extremism.
Obviously, I can’t speak for every member of our generation – I grew up in Devon where there is very limited ethnic diversity – but among some people in my peer group it is seemingly considered perfectly acceptable to tar all Muslims with the same brush and to be far more suspicious of them than any other minority group. Personally, I have never been suspicious of someone who is, for example, wearing a burkha – but I can understand why some people of our generation might be more suspicious when one of the most defining moments of our childhood was an attack perpetrated by those claiming to represent the ideas of Islam. The fact is that, in my experience, not enough is done to teach children about other cultures and religions, therefore the hateful rhetoric that has become frighteningly common in our generation is allowed to become accepted.
We obviously saw the effects of this new level of suspicion just two weeks after the 7/7 attacks when Jean Charles de Menezes was shot by police who suspected that he had been involved in a failed bombing attack the previous day. Thankfully, this has been the only such event since the bombings, but shows just how big an effect the attacks have had on the entire British public. We’ve had to come to accept heightened security measures in airports; moves by government to invade our privacy in the name of keeping us safe from terror, and the rise of groups such as Britain First who play on the fear whipped up by those who carried out the attacks of ten years ago. The shock of that day in 2005 will probably never die away, and it has left an indelible mark on the country, but for people my age we have grown up in a country that has been scarred by these attacks. It doesn’t register that the UK terror threat level is currently ‘Severe’, we are so used to it now- since the UK terror threat scale was introduced in 2006 it has never dropped below ‘Substantial’- and we have come to accept that it would be unsurprising if there were another bombing tomorrow, as horrific as that prospect may seem.
In his speech after the events 10 years ago, Ken Livingstone addressed the perpetrators of the attack directly, saying, “you fear that you may fail in your long term objective to destroy our free society” and to a large extent he’s been proven correct. The British people are still hugely resolute and, in the main, welcoming of those who express different views, beliefs or opinions. We are constantly reminded not to forget the 52 people who lost their lives 10 years ago today, but what is important to remember is that those people weren’t chosen because they were important politicians or cultural figures, they weren’t ‘chosen’ at all. They could have been anyone, but the attackers didn’t care, they just wanted to strike fear into the British people.
Again, Livingstone talked about the wish of terrorists to “divide” the people of London and, by extension, Britain. He claimed that they would fail, and unfortunately, I don’t think that they entirely have. They have managed to exacerbate British suspicion of the Muslim population in this country in a way that is hideous to behold, the fact that The Times columnist Melanie Phillips can publish an article entitled “It’s a pure myth that Islam is ‘a religion of peace'” (£) demonstrates that since 2005 we’ve allowed an open season of attacks on the beliefs of Muslim people in Britain and across the world. I seriously hope that those, like me, who were just children when these attacks occurred can see past the hateful rhetoric and accept that these attacks are not representative of a whole people. Yes, it has led to serious alterations in how we live our lives, alterations that have just become part of our day to day lives. Despite this, the British people, particularly in our generation, have the opportunity to move past the atmosphere of fear that came out of the attacks 10 years ago, and remember that those 52 people represented every one of us- young, old, black, white, Christian, Hindu or Muslim- it would be an insult to their memory, even ten years later, to use the attacks as a way of dividing our society, and it would mean that the terrorists, responsible for acts we could barely comprehend, would have finally succeeded.