We are not afraid. It’s an awful cliché, but we aren’t, and like those other so-British tropes – Blitz spirit, communities pulling together, bloodied but unbowed – in this case it’s true.
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The aftermath to Wednesday’s terror attack in London unfolded with banal inevitability. A hashtag trended. Facebook activated its Safety Check. Islamic State claimed responsibility, and European capitals signaled their solidarity with the Brits by lighting up iconic buildings.
But perhaps in contrast with other international terror incidents, at home remarkably few people are exploiting the situation to serve their own political agenda. This is particularly soothing after an awful period of national division spurred by Brexit.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some vague and predictable attempts to whip up xenophobia. Tommy Robinson, the leader of anti-Muslim bully group the English Defence League, hot-footed it down to parliament even as ambulances blue-lighted from the scene to warn that the country was at war.
He was greeted with ridicule, as were fellow far-right fringe group Britain First who declared they would march in protest of the terror attack, rather delightfully choosing next Saturday – April Fools Day.
And of course, with creaking predictability, the odd Daily Mail columnist blamed it all on multiculturalism.
But there was a definite outbreak of calm, measured decency among the British media and the political class alike.
Even the Sun, Britain’s top-selling tabloid that’s never averse to a bit of rabble-rousing itself, chose to focus on the everyday heroes who rushed to help the victims. It splashed on its front page: “Maniac who knifed Britain in the heart.” Indeed it was so – parliament, Big Ben, the bobby on the beat – the classic British symbols the perpetrator no doubt intended to target.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn managed to issue a statement condemning the attack without blaming British policy in the Middle East, and you don’t have to be a fan of Prime Minister Theresa May to acknowledge that the language she used in the wake of the attack was calm and measured.
For once the common sense reached across the Atlantic and by some miracle, May’s new chum Donald Trump didn’t produce any 3 A.M. tweets piggybacking on the attacks to promote his own agenda.
Of course, he has form. To take but one example, after last year’s Brussels attacks, he tweeted that the Belgian capital was “now a disaster city” and pitched it as an example of the disease only his immigration policies would cure.
Sadly however, Trump has enough emissaries who are willing to spread the message for him. His advisor and supposed terror expert Walid Phares heralded an appearance on Fox News by tweeting his claim that “one man can shut down a city.” To which swathes of furiously sarcastic Londoners responded with a barrage of tweets showing the Tube running, commuters yawning their way to the office and London working just fine, thanks.
Trump’s favorite Brit, Nigel Farage, told Fox News that opponents of the President’s travel ban “need to have a long, hard think about what they are doing” because lax immigration provided an "open door inviting terrorism." And Trump’s deputy assistant Seb Gorka, told the same channel, “The war is real, that’s why executive orders like President Trump’s travel moratorium are so important.”
The perpetrator, of course, was British-born, but no need to let facts get in the way of political expediency and plain old-fashioned prejudice.
And from another quarter, Jerusalem took the opportunity to express solidarity with the U.K. in a rather self-serving fashion.
“The citizens of Israel were among the first to face the challenge of vehicular ramming and stabbing attacks,” said Benjamin Netanyahu. “We must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the citizens of Britain and the entire civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism.”
This has also become part of the inexorable progression of a terror attack.
After last summer’s devastating Nice truck attack Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat wrote a piece for Newsweek about “What the world can learn from Israel,” eliding, for example, “the digital incitement of Hamas and the Islamic State militant group.”
Last night, the Union Jack was projected on to the city of Tel Aviv’s City Hall, in the now-inevitable nod to the indivisibility of the terror threat faced by Israel and Europe.
Israelis are always keen on giving counter-terror tips to their European counterparts, and ones that go beyond practical measures regarding metal detectors and secure peripheries. There’s a certain view amongst the Israeli commentariat that we have to compromise our quaint European values of privacy and freedom of speech in this existential battle for existence.
What Israelis fail to understand is the fact that we in the U.K. are still tangled in a debate over civil liberties versus security concerns is not a sign of failure. Quite the reverse.
The U.K. doesn’t have administrative detention. Terrorist’s families’ houses will not be bulldozed. This is not the start of the Londonistan intifada. Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old with no previous terror convictions, carried out his attack with a car and a kitchen knife. The truth is that what happened was nearly impossible to prevent.
Donald Trump Jr. misinterpreted London mayor Sadiq Khan when he quoted a year-old interview in which the mayor said that the threat of terror was “part and parcel of living in a big city.” But the wider point is still true. This is “part and parcel” of living in a major city and if anything, London seemed rather underwhelmed by Thursday’s events. As May noted in her speech in parliament, the terrorist did, in fact, fail. That’s the important narrative.
There was a tragic loss of life, but there was no mass disruption, mass casualties, no mass backlash or social unrest. We’ve been here before. There were no race riots in Britain in 2005 after the 7/7 attacks. There won’t be now.
“All terrorists are politely reminded that this is London,” the notice read, “and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on.”