London 22.3.17

Yesterday was the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Brussels, which killed more than 30 people. I posted about that a year ago today, in From A Distance. In that post I said “Attacks like this strike at the heart of our society. London is now on heightened alert and must be a strong candidate for an atrocity such as this.” A year on, and I’m saddened that those words have been proved prophetic. I’ve also posted previously about terrorist attacks in Paris, and it would feel remiss of me not to do so for my own capital city. This post will draw on some of those posts, so you may recognise some of my words – I make no apology for that, as I believe I was right to say them then, and that hasn’t changed.

For most of my 38 years of employment I worked in London. It is my ‘go to’ place for sporting and cultural events. Whilst I’m not a Londoner by birth, I feel it to be ‘my city,’ and am horrified at what happened there yesterday. At the time of writing the full details have not been made public, for understandable reasons. What is known is that a lone attacker hired a 4×4 car – a large, heavy vehicle – in Birmingham, drove it to London and across Westminster Bridge. He did this at speed, deliberately taking indiscriminate aim at pedestrians, two of whom died and 40 more are now in hospital, several of them critically ill. He then crashed into the gates outside the Houses of Parliament, got out of the car and ran towards Parliament, knifed an unarmed policeman to death, before being shot dead by an armed officer. Those of you outside the UK may think it strange that our police forces are not all armed: for us, it is a symbol of our peaceful democracy that they aren’t, although we do have armed officers where necessary. Death by violent crime is much less prevalent here, which is what makes yesterday all the more shocking for us.

I first began working in London in 1975, at the time of the IRA bombing campaign. I worked in a government building which was classified as being at high risk of an attack, so I was made very aware of what terrorism could mean for us. I was working in Central London in 2005 at the time of the 7/7 bombings, only about half a mile from Edgware Road station, where one of the bombs was detonated. The eerie silence, broken only by sirens, that descended over London that day is something I’ve never forgotten. Watching the television yesterday afternoon, as events unfolded, seemed all too familiar. The reality is that, behind the scenes, our security forces are working very hard to protect us from such atrocities, and we know that there would have been more of them without their work.

On previous occasions I have asked one simple question: why? I cannot begin to understand what these people think they are trying to achieve. Do they want to destroy our way of life so that they can impose theirs? Do they really think that killing and maiming innocent people will achieve this? The fanaticism innate to such beliefs is way beyond my comprehension. And it makes me angry. My two daughters both live in London and I don’t see why I should fear for their safety as they go about their daily lives. What have they or the people killed yesterday ever done to deserve to live in fear of such an attack which will, in the end, achieve nothing except murder and slaughter on a large scale? It is inconceivable that terrorism will ever win, but these fanatical, cowardly, murdering lunatics are incapable of understanding that. Such terrorism and acts of war, allegedly in the name of religion, have been a part of history going back way before the Crusades, so it would be naive to believe that they will ever stop.

The phrase “Man’s inhumanity to man” is first documented in the Robert Burns poem Man was made to mourn: A Dirge in 1784, although it is likely that he reworded a similar quote from Samuel von Pufendorf, who in 1673 wrote, “More inhumanity has been done by man himself than any other of nature’s causes.” Nearly 350 years after von Pufendorf that lesson has not been heeded, and is still so true. Man is still doing so much harm to man, and the utter horror and futility of this leaves me deeply saddened.

My heart goes out to everyone affected by yesterday’s atrocity: I just wish that no one else would ever be touched in this way again. But I don’t think that is a realistic wish, sadly. Despite that, and however many times people do things like this, there must be one abiding message: you will never win, democracy will never bow to your perverted minds.

International Day of Happiness

In case you hadn’t noticed and the festivities had passed you by, today is International Day of Happiness. I think we could be forgiven for not noticing this as the celebrations here in the UK appear to be non-existent. How could this be? This is a long-standing tradition that goes all the way back to, er, 2012, when it was first decreed by the United Nations. Here’s the relevant extract from their resolution, in case you don’t believe me:

The words are worthy, but I have a huge degree of difficulty in understanding how anyone can think that we can be told to be happy. It’s a bit like telling a depressed person to ‘get over it,’ it isn’t something that can be made to happen just because someone says so, or wants it to happen. Frankly, with all the evidence to the contrary, I think the UN is on a loser with this one and has many far more serious matters worthy of its attention. The world is in a mess, and decreeing a day to be happy is, frankly, ludicrous. Here in the UK we’re faced with the ramifications of the vote to leave the EU: the levels of xenophobia and racism that the campaign and its aftermath have stirred up; the uncertain financial and political future our country will face when we go it alone, led by a government that is clinging grimly to a mantra that everything will be wonderful when, in reality, they are as clueless as the rest of us; the possibility that not only will we leave the EU but will see the UK break up. Reasons to be cheerful? I think not.

Take a look at the wider world and the situation is no better. ISIS and other terrorists are implacable enemies of peace and harmony. There are ‘populist’ movements throughout Europe making electoral gains. And the largest ‘populist’ vote of them all was the one that bought the lies of a conman only interested in feathering his own nest but has somehow persuaded a minority vote to get him elected President of the US, due to their crazy Electoral College system. But, to be fair, he does seem to be doing his bit to contribute to Happiness Day: we Brits are still laughing helplessly at his assertion that GCHQ was somehow involved in the plot he imagines Obama started to bug his offices. Trumpgate; the comedy gift that keeps on giving.

I could go on at length about this, but that is not the aim of this post and many, far better informed, commentators than I exist to do this. My point today is to pick up on the apparent stupidity of designating a day to be one on which governments worldwide can do something to highlight and improve an emotional construct. Try telling that to the many refugees around the world, or those who are discriminated against for reasons of religion, ethnicity or colour – and by this I don’t mean those who happen to be orange. The phrase ‘pissing in the wind’ comes to mind.

I’ve painted a deliberately negative picture, and no doubt there are loads of activities and initiatives being taken today in the name of happiness. One such example is this piece from today’s Metro newspaper. There’s nothing new here, but advice on how to improve your mental health can never be repeated too much. To me, that is exactly what encouraging people to be happy is all about. There is allegedly a website for the day – happinessday.org – and I was going to give you a link to it. But I’ve tried it in four different browsers and it doesn’t load – maybe it’s crashed under the weight of interest?

But whatever is being done today in the name of happiness, I wonder how much of it has any long-term sustainable benefit. Maybe it’s just me being an old curmudgeon but I suspect that all the worthy efforts that may be being made will soon be forgotten, and that is really sad. Governments, those with the power and money, should be doing much more to help us all be happier. But vested interests tend to get in the way, and the rich continue to get richer at the expense of the less privileged. It will take a lot more than a token day to change that for the better.

One of the things in life that makes me happy is music. So, not wanting this to be an entirely negative post, I leave you with three minutes of musical happiness:

Try telling me you aren’t happier after watching that than you were before! Have a good day, and be happy – remember, it’s mandatory 😊