Summer '05

Fragments - Bombs - Ashes - Reminisce

'Fragments! Any sort of fragments.' 
Novelist G. Infante Cabrera, on being asked his favourite sort of reading.

1) The grisly London connoisseurship of the 07/07 bombers: The fact that the Kings Cross-Russell Square tube bomber chose to place his device in the front carriage. Any north London-Picadilly Line veteran knows that the front carriage is where you want to be for swiftest access to most of the connecting lines at Kings X. You also want to be there if you're getting off at the next stop , Russell Square, cos that's the nearest carriage for the lifts there. In other words, that front carriage is especially packed around those stations, something the bomber no doubt took into account. Man, that's dark.

2) Isn't the Italian lawyer for the Brit-Ethiopian bomb suspect fighting extradition hot, though? A tad hotter, I would venture, than our own (estimable) Gareth Pierce, solicitor for the Brazilian De Menezes' family. Italia strikes again for the aesthetes amongst us...

3) Various shivers/ echoes during the bomb thing...On the day itself, 'cos I was about to head off to this residency I'm doing at the British Museum, and would have used either that tube or the 30 bus (also blown up) to get there. Then discovering that a cousin of mine was on a neighbouring bus to the one that blew, and that a friend of friends had been killed...So, definitely felt that 'there but for the grace of God' feeling. Not truly the shiver of death, personally, but something akin. Five times I've properly felt that shiver - three underwater (I can't swim), and twice in cars. And I've gotta tell you, if you've never felt it, that, truly, your life does flash before you. You're told it, and it's true.

4)Everything is true. (Things I've learnt #4). There's a bunch of things that you hear or you're told or you suspect, say,as a child - that committees are boring, that status/ money gets you laid etc - and, in my experience, every last thing you were told is true. Trust me, I've 'tested' all these things out and, sad to say, worse to see, the world runs on predictable lines. Urgh! Surprise me, why don't you? The wasted time... Refund, please!

5) Bombs, Identity: there's been a lot of sound and fury in the media, on the back of the fact that that the bombers and would-be bombers were British-born or raised, about Ist/ 2nd generation immigrants and loyalty to Britain, fifth columns, voluntary, 'self-inflicted' apartheid/ ghettos and blah. Some 'Guardian' calls that we should take an American approach and actively promote/ embed patriotism in newer arrivals (don't think so), and Tory bigwigs, including their leader Michael Howard, recommending that 'Multiculturalism' be killed off, and newer Britons instead be encouraged to embrace Britishness/ British values, such as 'tolerance and fair play...' (Ho hum).

So all this - how much loyalty do you need to Britain not to be a 'bad'un, essentially, and related matters - on my mind. Some thoughts:

a) (Integration #1). A recent survey finds that, though Britons generally believe that 'multiculturalism' is a good thing, they believe minorities should integrate more.... What! - Not the same Britons who, in their stints in foreign countries spend their time, drink in hand, in the expat clubs, in their little enclaves, not learning the lingo? Not those ones, surely.... 
NB: On the few occasions when I have been in a truly diverse, private gathering in this country (not so many actually - three hands, maybe), the host/ prime mover has always been an 'ethnic' (to use a word wrongly)

b) 'Multiculturalism should be killed off...' I'm sorry, but when was it ever alive? 'Multiculturalism' in the sense of folk of different races, religions, living around each other has been around for a while now, likewise 'multiculturalism' as a piece of approved officialese by which a body can get funding for some project and stitch its separate and unequal place in the nation's cultural fabric, but 'multiculturalism' in a more vital and useful sense, as a key driver in forging a wiser, healthier people/ society from the varied informations and perspectives of its many - well, I barely think we've started.

c) As it happens, the striking thing, as anyone who knows many young black or Asian Britons will tell you, is just how British/ Western most are. Cars, credit, consumerism and football have done their work... 

For the diminishing others, this matter (though not even the key matter, I think, for the bombs - see below) remains as it has been for a while... If you do want everybody to be mainstream, to be British with a big B, well, okay, but British on what terms exactly? What are you offering me, honey? Peace, so to speak, with honour? How big is your big Britain, precisely? Truly bigger than its forbear? Truly?...

[Best media counter to the 'why can't you all be [our version of ] British? plaint: (said by an Asian Briton - didn't catch his name - on BBC World Service radio): 'Just because you're born in a barn doesn't make you a horse.' Ouch!]

The mainstream - how can I put it? The air is different. If you know other, you may feel it whiffs a bit.

d) The mainstream - Britain with a big B. 

i) Education (or, Black with a big B)
When I was studying at British schools in the eighties, African children, ie children of African immigrants, were at the top of the tree academically. For a number of years, we bested every other ethnic group - whites, Asians etc. But now Africans have plummetted in the annual education statistics, so far that now we are at the bottom, jostling with some others. Now some of this will be to do with differences in the class of more recent African arrivals and their reasons for coming, but it is surely partly to do with the growing mainstream Britishness of these African-descended kids. The more that they have seen themselves simply as British and black-British, the more they have become creatures of a wider western black popular culture and a British urban schools-system, neither of which are geared to educational excellence. Sometimes, some inner resistance to how your peers or the generality wish to define you can be helpful (eg, if you're black, don't think of yourself as 'middle-class' or 'working-class/ street', both of which may involve in 'authenticity' issues, why not see youself as immigrant-class. The air there is easier. More things are allowed. And you will work hard...)

ii) Moments in the industry # 1...

...Uh, I was gonna hit you with a couple of trendy, so-called progressive Channel 4 anecdotes - pointers to where I think the big B mainstream is at now, but another time (remind me) 'cos not strictly relevant here, because I don't think the bombs were anything really to do with 'loyalty to Britain' . You don't need to love Britain to believe that killing its or anybody else's random civilians is wrong. Unless they are all psychopaths - and I don't suppose they are - the only reason I can imagine propelling people though such actions is that they believe they are serving a greater good. The battle against such people can only be won by fighting on that terrain; by challenging that notion.

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