On July 7, 2005, four sick-minded terrorists tried to break the spirit of London. They failed.
Exactly 10 years ago today, on 7 July 2005, four young men committed mass murder on the transport network of my former home city, London.
At around 8.30 am — the busiest time on London’s widely used tube network — the four men, wearing backpacks stuffed with explosive hydrogen peroxide, exited King’s Cross station and split up. Three headed towards the underground while one boarded a double-decker bus.
Exactly 19 minutes later, at 8.49 am, they set off a series of deadly explosions on the Circle Line, the Piccadilly Line, and on the number 30 bus.
Fifty-two innocent individuals, people simply travelling to work that morning, lost their lives. Their names — David Foulkes (22), Gamze Gunerol (24), Shahara Islam (20), Rachell Chung For Yuen (27), Monika Suchocka (23) and 47 others — reflect London’s staggering diversity.
As the BBC poignantly writes today, they were “the world on a train.”
London is such a staggeringly diverse place — home to people from a wider variety of ethnic backgrounds than any other place on Earth — that an attack on a densely packed tube train running through the heart of the city could never be just an attack on Britain.
It was an attack on diversity, multiculturalism, and on societies everywhere whose central values are tolerance and respect for others. As the British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, said a week after the attacks:
“The spirit of our age is one in which the prejudices of the past are put behind us, where our diversity is our strength. It is this which is under attack.”
It probably sounds utterly bizarre to people from the rest of the world, but today’s memorial makes me miss London, precisely because it reminds me of what an extraordinary place it is.
There are very few places in the world that could respond to something as cruel and brutal as indiscriminate mass murder whose intent was to spread terror, fear, and division than London did in the summer of 2005.
Londoners may have a reputation for being excessively reserved, possibly even rude and unfriendly, but — when it comes down to it — Britain’s capital city is a more communal place than anywhere else I have been.
In London, people may hide behind their newspapers and iPhones, they may avoid speaking to strangers at all costs, and they may even cross the street to avoid making small talk with a colleague. Do not confuse this with an absence of solidarity, shared experience, or a sense of community, however.
Londoners — by which I mean all people living in the city, irrespective of their background — despite the appearance of cold, distant reserve are in fact among the warmest, friendliest and most respectful people in the world. They may be too timid to look one another in the eye most mornings, but — squashed together on the train — they know that they share a mutual sense of love for their proud, diverse city.
That is what the terrorists tried to destroy on July 7, 2005.
Speaking in the immediate aftermath of the attacks from Singapore (where London had just won the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games), the then Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, made an extraordinary speech.
I hope you’ll forgive me quoting at length, but his words then merit re-reading today as we remember the victims of indiscriminate terrorism on the streets of London:
“I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.
That isn’t an ideology, it isn’t even a perverted faith – it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee, that the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I’m proud to be the mayor of that city.
Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life.
I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others – that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail.
In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.
They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.“