This week


Every political leader within reach of a microphone found something to say about the London bombings, but few said anything enlightening. From the moment Tony Blair and then George Bush stepped up at Gleneagles there was a remarkable sameness about the substance and the style. Cod-Churchillian or mock Lincolnian, it all boiled down to good and evil, those who love freedom and those who hate it, us and them in the war on terror. They say that truth is the first casualty of war; it follows that as long as war is what our leaders call it pretty well anything goes.

This might explain our own Kim Beazley’s never to be forgotten, ‘human filth that must be eliminated’. Yet, without wanting to be too kind, this might have been less an aberrant Nuremburg flourish than an involuntary reflex of the primal grip that Britain has on us. Perhaps she is still in our ancestral innards, and we feel any blow against her is a low blow. The tube is our tube too. We all travel on the 30 bus. It’s much as Bob Menzies said he felt when he stood in the halls of Westminster before and during the war. We feel this outrage in ways we don’t feel the daily murder of innocents in other places, even when it is done in our name, because we feel an attack on Britain quite literally as an attack on ourselves. What you do to the mother country you do to us.

Thanks to Peter Nicholson at the Australian

Thanks to Peter Nicholson at the Australian

The war on terror warriors will never change their tune or vary their clichés, but there must be one or two among them who felt a bit inadequate or grubby after listening to the London Police Chief, or Ken Livingstone, London’s mayor, or Marie Fatayi-Williams, the Nigerian mother of one of the victims in Tavistock Square. Watching these people no one could doubt their loathing or their determination to overcome, but unlike our leaders, all of them reached beyond it. For both the Mayor and the mother the bombers were ‘deluded’: deluded in their religion, deluded in thinking that anything was gained by bloodshed. Livingstone met them not with the clichés of the war on terror, but with the idea and the spirit of an open post modern city in which people of all religions find freedom and opportunity.

We might not have noticed how empty our leaders’ offerings were if Livingstone had not spoken in such concrete terms, not of some abstraction but of a city and a society. That was what the Nigerian mother said: a Catholic with a Muslim husband, their son was born in London, a ‘world citizen’ she said. ‘We must all stand together for our common humanity’, she said. Somehow it put that photo of the four young men from Leeds entering Luton station with their bombs strapped on their backs in terrible perspective “ fools, dupes, even fiends, but their mothers’ sons, and no more human filth than the reservists driven by some other notion of right to fire bombs into Iraqi civilians’ houses.

Next time Bush or Blair or Beazley or Howard go searching for the spirit of Lincoln or Churchill they might listen to Marie Fatayi- Williams.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.