Keeping our faith is best way to pull this fractured isle together
By Caroline Farrow
As soon as the alert flashed on my phone on Saturday night, that a van had hit pedestrians on London Bridge, like the rest of the country, I knew instantaneously what had happened before any official confirmation had come through.
One of the downsides of having permanent access to the internet and a rolling 24 hour news coverage, is that we are learning to view these terrible events as a morbid form of ‘grief entertainment’ which, if we’re not careful, can desensitise us to the horror and lead us to dehumanise the victims.
I didn’t go to bed for several hours afterwards, as I was glued to my phone and the news, watching events unravel. For me, it was as though the attack had suddenly got very personal.
I know that area of London extremely well, as for a number of years I worked in an office based at London Bridge, situated in a very pleasant little close behind the Anglican Southwark Cathedral, over-looking the river and the reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde ship.
I looked forward to Fridays when the neighbouring Borough Market would be open and I would stock up on some luxury produce and maybe sample something new, like a kangaroo burger, for lunch, and frequented the local bars and restaurants after work.
We watched the shooting of the Bridget Jones movie, from out of the office window; the local pub, the Globe, was used as her flat, meaning that for the duration of the filming we were unable to leave the office or access London Bridge tube station to get home on time – though the sight of Colin Firth in his impeccably cut suit more than compensated for the inconvenience!
Learning that the attackers had got out of their van on the site of ‘Nancy’s Steps’ at the end of the bridge leading down towards Borough Market sent shudders down my spine.
These steps are, as a blue plaque informs passers by, the place where villain Bill Sykes murdered girlfriend and ‘tart with a heart’ Nancy in Dickens’ classic novel Oliver Twist. They are also a gloomy set of steps that I descended on a daily basis, often being forced to remind myself in my head that nothing so terrible had really happened here, Nancy’s death was just a work of fiction.
Only now that horror I felt then had become real and tangible, adding another layer of gruesome history to an area which houses the London Dungeons and the atmospheric cobbles of Clink Street, site of the notorious medieval prison which once housed a number of Jesuit priests.
While I thanked God that, on this occasion, it wasn’t me, perhaps because this was the first incident in a long while to feel so close to home, I also burned with anger as the realisation hit home that our streets are no longer safe.
I may no longer work at London Bridge, but I do visit the area frequently – a big media outlet is just down the road at the Shard, and just recently I met a friend for coffee at London Bridge station.
Various commentators scoffed at the notion that Britain was feeling fear, or reeling from it, instead reminding the world that this is the city that didn’t succumb to the bombing campaign of the Nazis in World War II, blithely going about its daily business and going on as before.
That might be true, but it would be a lie to claim that Londoners didn’t let the Blitz interrupt their daily lives or fear bombs. People retreated to underground stations to shelter from the bombs as soon as the warning sounded. They took reasonable precautions to protect themselves, including evacuating many of their children to the country where they were deemed to be safer.
Seventy-six years ago, Britain had much more of a sense of cohesion. Local communities existed where everybody knew and looked out for each other, meeting regularly either at church or other local gatherings and there was a far greater sense of shared moral values.
Invoking the spirit of the Blitz doesn’t work in a fractured society, where family members often live long distances away from each and work such long hours that they have little time to fraternise with their neighbours. Nor does it work in multicultural areas where communities have formed their own cultural and ethnic ghettos.
It is not wrong to admit that the terrorists have been successful in creating a climate of fear; to pretend otherwise is to go into denial, but the fear ought to motivate us to do what we can to address the threat.
Mayor of London Sidiq Khan is wrong when he urges people to acquaint themselves with the idea that terrorist attacks are simply part and parcel of living in a large city.
I began my adult working life under the shadow of the IRA, always alert for suspicious packages or abandoned vehicles, even missing the Docklands bomb by a mere 15 minutes when a lorry load of explosives was detonated under the office building, but not once did I believe or accept that being caught in a terrorist incident on a regular basis was something to which I needed to become accustomed.
The fear only served to make me more alert on an individual basis and successive governments did their best to work towards peace, which involved persuading the IRA to lay down their arms.
The difference between what is happening now and the terrorism of the past, is that individuals have scant regard for their own lives to the extent that they are prepared to take enormous risks murdering others and will do so with their own bare hands. We must never passively accept these victims as collateral damage, the necessary price of western freedoms.
The other notable difference, the big elephant in the room, is that unlike the IRA, these radicalised so-called ‘jihadists’ are not able to be reasoned with. Their aim is not to resolve injustice but to inflict carnage on western societies, in an attempt to impose their own rule of law.
The Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, a document which serves as a summary of Catholic Social Teaching, is explicit that a right exists to defend oneself from terrorism, although this cannot be exercised in the absence of moral or legal norms, meaning that draconian measures, such as internment without trial, are indefensible. It also notes that even when force is necessary as a defence against terrorism, it must always be accompanied by a courageous and lucid analysis of the reasons behind terrorist attacks.
The criminal responsibility is always personal and cannot be extended towards the religions, nations or ethnic groups to which the terrorists belong.
Which is a sobering reminder that while we can identify that a problem exists within Islam, we cannot hold it or Muslims personally responsible.
Though as the compendium goes on to note, ‘No religion may tolerate terrorism and much less preach it.
Rather, religions must work together to remove the causes of terrorism and promote friendship among peoples’.
In the current febrile atmosphere, we must keep this in mind.
• Caroline Farrow is a Catholic journalist and broadcaster.
Picture: Floral tributes are laid near Borough Market in London with the Shard in the background following Saturday’s terrorist attack. Photo: Isabel Infantes/PA Wire/PA Images.Tags: Borough Market, Caroline Farrow, faith, Farrow, jihadists, London, London Bridge, terror, terrorism, terrorist