When I first moved to London I was overwhelmed at the sheer size of it, the amount of stuff to do, the potential. It seemed to be a place that needed to be breathlessly experienced at every opportunity, and for a long time I doubted I had the energy for it.
That made me feel like I didn’t truly belong, and that this great metropolis was somehow wasted on me.
As the years plodded by, the feeling dissipated and it gradually occurred to me I was foolish to think I didn’t belong, because London is the one settlement in the world where everyone does belong.
That’s the whole point of this city and what makes it so special. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what you believe, where you’re from. London is the most extraordinary story of multiculturalism in human history. Over 300 languages are spoken here, by a population comprising 270 nationalities. Practically any demographic you can imagine will have made a home in London.
It doesn’t matter if you’re from Brighton or Bangladesh: there will already be someone just like you, probably thousands. This is the capital not just of Britain, but the world. Just to be here — as a local, a tourist, a worker — is to be a part of that story, and to be a Londoner.
So the thing that unites Londoners isn’t their language, nationality, religion, ethnicity or cuisine — these things are about as varied as it’s possible to get. What unites Londoners is their mutual tolerance of all those variations. There are pretty much only two things Londoners don’t tolerate. One is standing on the wrong side of the escalator. The other is intolerance. If the American Dream is a giddy metaphor for capitalism, the London Dream is one for coexistence.
Of course, it’s a dream that hasn’t quite achieved reality yet. This was demonstrated with horrific potency last Saturday, when three men murdered eight people and injured many more. They would have said they were doing it in the name of religion, but really it was in the name of intolerance.
They chose their location carefully. If the attack on Westminster in March was a strike at the heart of power, the attack in Borough Market was a strike at the heart of the people. The food-sellers at Borough Market come from all over the world, a microcosm of the city’s population. Go there in the day and you’ll see queues for Ethiopian curry, Spanish paella, Lebanese falafel, British pie and mash, Louisiana pulled pork, Singapore noodles, Italian pasta.
As night falls, surrounding bars, pubs and restaurants spill out into the streets with chattering punters. Nowhere embodies the spirit of this great city better than Borough Market.
And no one embodies the attitude of this city better than those who fought back on Saturday night. The Romanian baker who threw wooden crates at the attackers, before sheltering a group of Brazilians in his shop. The Australian nurse who ran to aid the wounded, at the cost of her own young life. The lone policeman who with nothing more than a baton — and balls the size of Jupiter — took all three of them on.
This is what London is, this is who London is. That these miserable outcasts thought they could change that with their van and their knives and their eight minutes would be laughable if the ramifications weren’t so desperately, painfully sad.
No one is more bemused than their own families and communities. The mother of one has said she is ashamed to mourn, and that “it’s impossible for me to say anything that makes sense”. The uncle of another, fighting back tears, said of the victims’ families: “They are all mine, even though I don’t know their names. They are my relatives, my brothers.” Imams across the country have refused to give the men a Muslim burial.
So how do we respond? Do we turn to the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Katie Hopkins, Donald Trumps and Paul Nuttalls of the world? Do we lap up their poisonous, divisive rhetoric, and embrace their fear, their breathtaking ignorance? Do we turn inwards, cower down, creep back towards the cave?
Do we fuck. We hold our heads up higher than ever and carry on as we always have, and always will.
The only response to terrorism is to not be terrorised.
I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t feel fear and act accordingly in the midst of an actual attack. I’m simply saying we cannot allow these events to alter our normal behaviour. That’s the real aim of terrorism and that’s how it wins: by creating an inflated, misguided sense of fear among a population by carrying out random attacks on minuscule portions of it. The most devastating tactic we can employ against terrorism is indifference.
London will continue being the centre of the world, and Londoners will continue to welcome the rest of the world, and life will go on, as it always does.
So, you should come. It’s lovely in summer.