I can remember it like it was yesterday. I received the phone call from Andrea on Wednesday afternoon at 16:54pm. I was on my way home and she caught me just in time to tell me that she felt ill and would probably go to the doctor the next day…Thursday...and that she wanted to re-schedule my assessment for Friday instead. Moving from one department to another in any company is a bit daunting, even in a foreign country and especially as it was in a new location and I was going to work directly with members of the British Parliament and other Councilors. So I was a little relieved that I could put it off for one more day. I often wonder what would have happened had I missed that phone call. I was suppose to take the Piccadilly Line to King’s Cross Station at approximately the same time that the terrorist attacks occurred in a series of explosions and bomb blasts on the London Underground on the 7th of July 2005.
The morning of July 7th was the same as every morning and because work only began at 9am (as it does for most Londoners), I had time to catch re-runs of the syndicated Will and Grace series as well as Friends between 7:30am and 8:30am while munching on Warburton’s seeded bread toast at like ₤5 a slice…well it was more like ₤1.29 a loaf at the time. I left for work shortly thereafter, unaware of what the day had in store for me. A five minute bus ride, 12 minute train ride and a Starbucks Latté later, I was at work, 10 minutes early. I was chatting to Katie about a disastrous date she had the previous evening when at 09:10am, I got an anxious phone call from my Venezuelan friend Bea. She sounded confused and a little concerned and wanted to know if I was ok. I assured her that I was fine…maybe in need of a couple more hours of sleep, but ok. She then told me that it had been reported that there were possible power surges all over the city which had resulted in a few accidents on the Underground…but it had been unconfirmed and they were still waiting for more news.
About 20 minutes later, Bea called me again, a little more frantic this time because she couldn’t get through to Angie, another close friend of ours. Then came the report that Liverpool Street Station, where Angie happened to be working at that time, had been closed down because of suspected terrorist attacks on the Underground. We both frantically tried to get through to Angie several times over the next hour…confusion and bewilderment whirling around most Londoners.
The explosion of a bus in Tavistock Square at around 09:45am confirmed that the city was under attack and everyone in the office was glued to their computer monitors, watching the news on the Internet with a mixture of shock, awe, disgust and fear. It was SURREAL, and as the events unfolded before our eyes, the reality, ramifications and repercussions of the attacks began to dawn upon us. London’s entire public transport system was brought to a halt, every train, every bus immobilized…with the exception of a few buses in Greater London, zones 4 to 6. With over 10 million working people dependant on public transport as well as the thousands of tourists that utilise public transport during their visits to the city in the summer months, the situation soon became a living nightmare. All mobile telephone networks were down because of the high volumes of people using their cell phones to make calls at the same time. People were panicking, anxious and uncertain about what to expect. The entire city had come to a standstill, quite literally.
I tried to call my parents in South Africa to let them know I was fine, but the telephone lines were down. I tried sending emails, but there were problems with the connections as well. I later found out that they were desperately trying to phone me as well, to see if I was ok…I had my cousins, aunts and uncles try to phone and email me too. I received a message from Jo in Paris, she was worried and wanted to know if we were ok…the French always have a way around things, even when the power is out and all communication systems are down. I told her that I had heard from Bea who was camped out at her flat with popcorn, the TV and some of her Venezuelan flat-mates, but nothing from Angie. She said she would try to get into contact with her too.
I eventually got through to Angie, but not for long because we were cut off in mid-conversation. At least she was fine, but according to her, Liverpool Street Station was in a state of chaotic hysteria with masses of disorientated people being evacuated and police pouring into the station and patrolling the area fervently. The scenes played out like a war movie.
I remember the District Head calling an emergency meeting with everyone in the office at around 11:00am. It was decided that everyone had to go home as soon as possible. Those of us who were fit and able and lived within walking distance i.e. between 5km and 15km from the offices volunteered to walk home whilst transport arrangements were being made for those living out of central London in Croydon, Surrey and Hertfordshire…miles away. They say that humanity performs at its greatest in a crisis, and it’s true. There were those who owned cars, complete strangers who offered to take people home…people stood together in a camaraderie I don’t think I will ever experience again. I volunteered to come in to work the next day, as part of a skeleton staff to represent and offer support to the people of the London Borough of Camden in a challenging time.
I remember stepping out into the street on my way home, looking up at the thick black clouds that were promising heavy rainfall while trying to make my way home as quickly as possible. Emotions like terror and horror coupled with apprehension and anxiety flowed in the streets and seeped into the cracks of the buildings. The place reeked of fear and paranoia. I wondered to myself if this was how it felt to step out into a city under siege by intruders…was this how it felt to step out in a war-torn country…was this how the people of New York felt on the 11th of September 2001…was this how it felt to know that everything you once knew was about to change forever? I was lucky though, I got home an hour and a half later. From what I had heard, others weren’t so lucky, with some people walking for 9 or 11 hours to get home. Others had to make their way down to the river, and cross using the river taxi’s as well as any other vessel that floated on the Thames. People were urged to get out of central London immediately and most of the services that usually cost a fortune were running for free…people were accommodating and trying to help out in every way they could.
The days that followed the attack were amongst the darkest days I’ve ever experienced in my life. There was a cloud of paranoia, fear and anxiety in the air. Every hint of the vivaciousness and the vibrance that the city of London exuded had all but disappeared and was replaced with an eerie silence that enveloped the city…everyone was emotionally exhausted, vulnerable and disillusioned. I can recall the tension on the first bus I took after that dreadful day. Everyone was quiet, suspicious, paranoid, rattled and on edge. Every single person who carried a back pack was eyed suspiciously…as the terrorists reportedly carried their bombs in their back packs. There was no casual banter on the Silverlink train from Queens Park to West Hampstead as was usual. No laughter and no loud music resonating from someone’s earphones…there was just silence.
The weeks following the attacks were similar. There was a strong police presence…literally on every corner of every street in London and they were armed, British police are never armed. We were subjected to random searches on all modes of transport across London…so I’d be on my way to work, the bus would stop in the middle of nowhere and we were searched. The heavy police presence did nothing to pacify our fears, and for a while, every bus or train I took was done so in trepidation. Walking through the streets of London felt like marching to your certain death.
When the identities of the terrorists were revealed to the public, there was a sense of Islamaphobia everywhere. Personally, I couldn’t understand why these men would attack a city where 90% of the population was made up of foreigners. I will never forget what Rose, a British national told me a few days after the attacks. She said that most of the British public were vehemently opposed to Blair and some of his policies, and that they particularly abhorred and resented his allegiance with Bush…but the terrorist attacks have left them with no choice but to vote in his favour and support his policies…not because they wanted to, they hated him; but because they needed solidarity, security and assurance, and they were not going to get that from the terrorists.
What fails my comprehension is what were those fanatics hoping to achieve? They obviously wanted someone to recognize their cause, if we can call it a cause. They have done nothing for the religion they proclaim to love…for the religion that they were willing to die for. They have not helped any of their brothers and sisters in Islam who are suffering because of the injustices incurred upon them. Instead they are directly responsible for the increase of hate related crimes in the UK, and around the world...especially towards the Muslims.
I am no stranger to adversity and I bear testament to the atrocities that some of the Muslims have to endure for their religion. On a trip to Palestine, I witnessed the glorified concentration camps that they are forced to live in. I’ve been to Bethlehem and have seen the colossal structure built around the city – a wall well over 2 meters high and at least 1 meter thick which governs who is allowed to enter or leave the city. Any Muslim born in that city from the year 2000 onwards has not been allowed to leave. There are major check points at the entrance that close promptly at 17:00pm…so if you happen to be in the city after that time, then tough for you because you have to stay there until the next morning.
I’ve seen people suffer and fight for their lives, for noteworthy causes…for justice.
The recent spate of events occurring in Mumbai echo’s those terrorist attacks that have occurred in London and New York. I find it ironic that these so-called “mujahedeen” want to fight for their cause and protest the killing of other Muslims by slaughtering and butchering hundred’s of innocent people. There is nothing noble or Just about these horrendous acts. In fact they are cowardly and Un-Islamic because simply put, it is MURDER. I saw one of the gunmen on CCTV footage on the news last night, he was walking with a machine gun in his hands and a sick twisted smile on his face. There is no religious motivation behind his cause and that masochistic smile on his face proves it. It’s repulsive and disgusting how many militant groups are just too ready to accept responsibility for these vile acts…like it’s a notch on their belt of achievements…something to be proud of.
I’m no expert in Islamic war tactics, but I’m pretty sure that our beloved Prophet (SAW) would have condemned such acts. I know he was a Just man with integrity, and that he valued life and peace, which is why he ordered that women and children not be harmed in war. He always approached his opponent with respect and dignity. They fought fairly in those days. These days the definition of fighting fairly varies between greedy nations unleashing atomic or nuclear bombs on unsuspecting victims and gunmen terrorising cities and killing people like sheep.
I cannot imagine what those people in Mumbai have been going through…those who were dining in one of the hotel’s restaurants, those who are still holed up in their hotel rooms and the Jewish centre…each one of them is someone’s Mother, Father, Brother, Sister, Daughter, Son. To be a target because of your nationality…it’s really no different from Zionism…two wrongs never make it right. I can’t imagine what the relatives of those people must be going through. Wondering and hoping that their loved ones are safe.
At some point in time, as Muslims, we have to stand up for our religion. As the majority, we have to take the reigns and stand up against western deprecation and against the fanatical and Orientalist vermin that threaten the very fiber of what we believe in. We can no longer allow people to vandalise, sabotage, defame, desecrate and disparage Islam to further their own agenda’s. We can no longer sit back and watch helplessly while animals and hooligans reign by inciting terror in the hearts of others. We can no longer be voiceless to these atrocities, hiding in our beautifully decked out homes, thinking that we are exempt from being victims of such appauling acts...letting those fanatics believe that what they are doing is right as long as it in the name of God. We have to stand up together for the religion we treasure, cherish and value…the same religion our Prophet (SAW) endured many hardships for…the same religion whose foundation is embedded in Peace and Respect.