Shaun Proulx on how the English handle terror threats — daily.
LONDON — The anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were duly noted in countless ways this week. North Americans remain shocked and saddened 16 years after that terrible day.
Not exactly the case in London, England (where I’m stationed for a couple of weeks, shooting a project.) In Britain, they’ve moved on.
Since I was here in April, there has been a terrorist bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, and the London Bridge/Borough Market van /stabbing attacks.
Residents are used to living on permanent high alert. The threat and execution of terror is as common as the English rain.
When I was a little boy — and then a teen — visiting family, ongoing attacks by the Irish Republican Army in London meant you didn’t toss garbage into litter bins, you simply dropped it where you were; garbage cans make excellent bomb baskets. Mailboxes don’t open wide enough to take small parcels, as Canada’s do, for similar reasons.
Z Hotel, in Central London’s Soho, where I’m writing this, is mere metres away from the famed Admiral Duncan, in which I ordered a pint of Guinness on Friday, April 30th, 1999, at 6:30 pm. I was 31. Packed solid at the start of a bank holiday weekend here, I hoped badly to hear Armand Van Helden’s You Don’t Even Know
Me, a massive hit across Europe, on my final night before flying to Toronto next day.
But, when my gut suddenly implored that staying meant I wouldn’t hear Van Helden, the sensation was so powerful I immediately left, beer untouched.
At 6:37 pm, I was up the street in another gay bar when the nail bomb planted inside the Admiral Duncan by a neo-Nazi exploded, hurling glass and debris into the street, killing three people including a pregnant woman, and seriously injuring nearly 100 others. The immediate area was a war zone, people lying everywhere, burned, unconscious, seriously wounded.
Canada’s turn is imminent, though Canadian-born, London-based financier Bonnie Hughes argues 9/11 was basically on our soil.
“New York City is 90 minutes by plane. 9/11 was not an attack on Canada — but what’s the difference between a neighbour’s backyard and ours, except a fence?” Hughes, 49, said.
She has lived in London for six years, and is one of several Londoners I interviewed about living in a world where terrorism is a daily reality, where Underground users are regularly reminded about suspicious packages and people, CCTV watching the whole time.
Canada certainly has enough of what British documentary filmmaker Mike Nicholls, 52, calls “toxic masculines,” aimless young men trying to find identity, who feel disenfranchised easy targets for terrorist groups wishing to brainwash new recruits. “What I find appalling is those who carry out these acts were born here,” he adds.
Nicholls says terrorism has always been part of his life: “You’re outside Selfridge’s and “BANG!” But you go on. They want to die— do you?” Hughes, the Canadian in London, wonders if the information balance isn’t heavily tipped. “When London Bridge happened, I was here with a load of friends, and none of us even heard about it. Until I started getting texts from North America, from everyone there — watching CNN.” At 84, Ronald Blackall has seen more than most. He was in the vicinity of many attacks, such as in 1991 when the IRA launched a homemade missile at 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the Prime Minister, and the “Bailey bombings” — car bomb attacks outside the famed courthouse in 1973.
Blackall offers this wisdom: “Any major city right now has a lot of people who want to get back at a society in which they don’t feel they have a place. It is society’s job to minimize their risk — and carry on.” “Fear consciousness isn’t useful,” Alastair Hudson, 49, a social justice activist, adds. “Fear begets fear and there’s money in misery. Wherever you are, including Canada, you must discern whether you buy into someone else’s drama. I don’t. And, if my name is on the bomb that day, then I’m gone. That’s my exit. But, meanwhile, I live my life to the fullest.”
The Shaun Proulx Show airs on SiriusXM Canada Talks channel 167.
He is the publisher of TheGayGuide Network.com
and leads a #Thought Revolution about busting through personal limits on ShaunProulx.com.
A photo from the One Love Manchester benefit concert, held in June.