The purpose of terrorism is to spread terror. This should be a statement of the obvious, but it apparently isn’t. Terrorists want us to feel afraid. They want to cause maximum disruption to our lives, to the way we live those lives, to our democracy. The greater impact, the greater the success of terrorism.
Last night — like hundreds of thousands of Londoners — I was having a drink with friends. That’s what people were doing in Borough Market — a historic corner of London with thriving restaurants, bars, pubs — when they were callously attacked by three hate-filled murdering terrorists.
As the news came in, I sent a few tweets, one of them as follows:
This was swiftly taken up by Katie Hopkins (vengeful at her recent sacking) and the official Leave.EU account, which tweeted, “That’s nice for you, @OwenJones84. Meanwhile, others are having their throats slit in the name of Allah. Glad you’re not scared though.”
This isn’t a post in my defence: it’s a post in defence of refusing to be terrified by terrorism. I deleted that tweet quickly because I felt it was being intentionally and despicably distorted, as though I was somehow boasting of a great night out after people had been murdered. That’s not the case, despite hordes of twitter accounts hailing from various parts of the United States currently claiming otherwise.
As it so happens, I was worried about friends who, thankfully (as far as I know) are safe. In that pub, people were laughing and chatting, and they weren’t scared or cowed. That’s a fact. And all over London last night, after the attack, for many hours, people continued to laugh, to chat, to drink, to dance. Not because they didn’t care. Many of them undoubtedly spent many minutes texting, calling, getting in touch with friends to find out if they were safe. But they carried on living their lives. They weren’t scared or cowed by terrorist fanatics who want them to feel burning terror and fear in every waking moment that they have, to steal away their happiness and their security.
What would have been the alternative? For London’s pubs, bars, restaurants, clubs to all empty as their patrons fled home in terror? To bolt their doors, to stay inside, to venture outside only when necessary, eyeing suspiciously everything and anything?
Today, London carries on. It is quiet by London-standards because it’s a Sunday. There are people in the parks. Some have gone for a swim. Others have taken their kids out. Others are in the pub, drinking: I can see them from my windows. Others are watching box sets at home. Their lives are continuing. They are not scared, and they are not cowed, and they are not allowing fanatics to win by ruining their lives.
Yes, we need a debate about dealing with extremism and fanaticism in this country. Nobody should argue otherwise. And let’s have it.
But that does not mean tolerating or accepting huge disruption to our lives and to our democracy, which would both gift and incentivise terrorism. London, like Manchester, is full of resilience, full of humanity. It’s also full of people getting annoyed with each other about standing on the left sides of escalators, at tourists for abruptly stopping in busy walkways, and at people with overly loud headphones on public transport. It is still London, nothing has changed.
Today we mourn those who have been murdered. When their names come out, let’s read about their lives, about what their loved ones say about then, about their passions and personalities, and all the rest.
And let’s not feel terrified, but full of renewed solidarity for one another as terrorists try — and fail — to spread terror.
And that’s why that tweet, which I should not have deleted, was one of defiance against terrorist fanatics who want us to be cowering and fearful and terrified. And any suggestion we behave in any other way is a dangerous capitulation to terrorist mayhem, and it must not happen.