LONDON – The police sergeant is almost apologizing as he explains why Borough High Street, which leads to Borough Market and London Bridge, the sites of the terror attack on Saturday night, is still closed twenty hours after three terrorists killed seven people there: “Look, it was quite a big incident, quite significant. We have to clean up, put things in order, investigate. We’ll open the street soon.” There’s something off about closing the normally bustling area on a summer evening in London, something out of order.
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Commerce isn’t supposed to just stop, even if less than 24 hours ago, people were run over and stabbed and 50 bullets were fired by the police.
But only the pubs around cordoned area are open. True to the local cliché, London never stops pulling pints – a ring of alcohol flowing around the cordon. Over seven decades since the last German bomb fell on the British capital, people here are still in love with the "Spirit of the Blitz" and the motto “Keep calm and carry on.” Keep calm and keep on drinking. “Don’t worry,” call out the officers patrolling the street. “We’ll get our pints in when the shift is over.” Meanwhile, they drink endless Styrofoam cups of tea.
The real heroes here aren’t the armed police officers who responded swiftly and professionally to the first reports of the attack and within eight minutes had shot all three terrorists dead. Today’s heroes are the drinkers who threw beer glasses at one of the marauders, forcing him out of a pub, or the man who fled another pub during the attack, pint in hand, making sure that not a drop of the amber liquid went to waste.
And while British Prime Minister Theresa May launched a program to combat Islamic radicalism on Sunday, trying to keep her grasp on the narrative four days before the election, today’s political hero is London’s Muslim Mayor Sadiq Khan, who found himself at the center of a bizarre Twitter spat with the president of the United States, Donald Trump, who for some reason took him to task for calling upon Londoners not to be alarmed by the presence of armed police in the streets.
London loves its clichés and its local heroes. It prefers to focus on how the city’s residents go about their lives as if nothing happened. It was the same on another summer evening twelve years ago, July 7, 2005, when a series of deadly explosions shut down the public transport system and hundreds of thousands of workers, stranded in the city center, sat down for a drink before setting off on the long walk home.
The self-assurance of Londoners is based on the belief that those in charge in Westminster know what they’re doing. It was the same in World War II, when they put their faith in former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his War Cabinet and went about their life and work while the bombs fell. But May is no Churchill and perhaps it’s time they started asking whether those in charge really know what they’re doing.
This week, they will have to choose between two potential prime ministers with completely opposite policies on fighting terror. May is calling for an all-out campaign against radicalism and is prepared to take on both the local Muslim community and the big internet companies which she claims have allowed pockets of extremism to flourish. Her opponent, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, believes that the West’s interventions and wars in the Middle East have boosted radicalism and contributed to the terror wave. But on Thursday, most voters will be more interested in the main parties’ social agenda. Who will raise taxes and who will cut social services?
The television screens in the pubs are showing a pop concert in Manchester held in solidarity with the victims of the horrendous terrorist attack there two weeks ago. Music and love will win against terror. The tough decisions and dirty work will be left to those in charge.