I was lying in bed in London on Sunday morning catching up with the news on #LondonBridge.
What to say? To be honest, I feel a bit numb. Before making it my permanent residence, I travelled through London a couple of times in the late 80s/early 90s en route to elsewhere. The main concern at that time, when there was a bomb scare, was to keep my mouth shut. It was pure instinct. Any bomb scare at that time was likely IRA-related, and while Irish people aren’t necessarily the most identifiable through skin colour or what we wear (apart from if one had a big auld Ireland/ GAA jersey), the accent could make one a target for aggression. Later, in 1998, when I first came to live here, it did. Barely-old prejudices die hard.
Since living in London, I’ve lived through several terrorist attacks. The most immediate for me was the Admiral Duncan attack, as I was around the corner on Dean St on a date. The one that resonated most was 7/7, as I was working in Covent Garden that day, in a new job at the private members club The Hospital. I wasn’t scared, funnily enough, and was kept busy helping panicked people to use the phone. One of my colleagues was in the bus behind the bus on Russell Square and she was understandably upset when she came in. There was an eerie sense of calm and desertion in Covent Garden that day. We’d been told not to venture out in the streets, because at that stage there were rumours about at least another 10 tube stations being targets, but being young(er) and maybe a little foolhardy, I went out for my lunch break. I’m really glad I did. I got to experience a noiseless Covent Garden, and even in the midst of terror, there was a beauty in this.
The most scared I’ve ever felt in London was during the London riots of 2011. I was living on my own, in Forest Hill, and it seemed during those dark days, like a wave of feral, unstoppable youth was marauding through London, like a wave of black smog, rampaging and overturning everything in their midst. Of course, the reality of what came out afterwards was quite different – it wasn’t just young, poor people, but also older, middle income earners who got caught up in looting and stealing, infected by atmospherics and their lizard brain being triggered. That hadn’t stopped assumptions by the media over the course of a week.
There have been more in the interim – Woolwich, Jo Cox, the Westminster attacks, Manchester etc – and this is the first time that I’ve felt this numb. I don’t think it is any coincidence that we are seeing an increase in attacks in line with cuts to policing and social services. The police and social services have their issues (racism being one of the biggest for the police), but police personnel and social care workers and all those who work with communities and that know their communities are vital.
There is also the issue of these attacks being, to a man, committed by men. I cannot tell you how deeply frustrating I find it that no one really has started to acknowledge this, apart from maybe people like Sara Khan at Inspire. There are issues with Khan and her organisation, especially with their once-entanglement with the Tories. However, identifying the seeds of radicalisation is incredibly important, be it white supremacist or Islamist.
I teach a lot of young boys when I am ‘resting’ as a private tutor, and young boys are loving, and immensely confused. They have all these feelings and emotions, and no one to really help them to process them as their society says ‘Stop crying’ ‘Be a big boy’ and other damaging messages. And their background has no bearing on the volatility of their emotions.
One of the angriest kids I teach (age 6) goes to one of London’s premier schools (hint: A certain former rightwing party leader went there). His parents are in very high-powered jobs, but by and large (from what I can tell), absent. We talk about his feelings, and he often said to me ‘I’m angry’. I don’t really need to help this kid academically – he’s far ahead of his age group (by years). But emotionally, he was a minefield when I took him on a couple of months ago. So I took him outside into his garden one lesson and showed him plants, and grass. I implanted the notion that maybe he could grow things so he would have something to pour all this emotion into. (Much as my parents did for me, when I was an angry 7 year old – my father’s answer to this was to give me his punch-bag and my mother’s was to give us all a little patch of garden to call our own. Both worked.) A mere two weeks later, this same kid was giving me some of his very precious football cards and showing me with pride his strawberry and thyme plants and was noticeably calmer. He’s probably my most extreme case in terms of his rage – but it is interesting that listening and giving him something to care for, and to love has worked.
The thing is: young boys who don’t know how to handle their emotions grow into men who don’t know how to handle their emotions. Given that men have the bulk of power and privilege in our society as things currently stand, this is a recipe for what we are witnessing. It is very easy for Wahabi Saudis, or white supremacists, or other damaged males with their hatred of Westerners/Muslims/women/gay people/take your pick to come in, and prey upon young men that, for whatever reason – life, family circumstances, lack of a father figure or positive male role model etc – feel enraged, alone, entitled and unaccepting of their own human vulnerability (because they’ve never been taught how to intelligently deal with it in emotional terms).
I’ve witnessed how this sense of coming into a ‘brotherhood’ ‘community’ can both stabilise the person but skew their thinking in a member of my own family. They were lucky enough to have some emotional tools to extricate themselves, even luckier to have met a fantastic woman that understood on a very visceral level how to modify some of the more destructive tendencies – but it’s hard. Others are not so lucky – the feeling of belonging to a community, be that Daesh, or the KKK, or the EDL is irresistible because, after all, it is a very human instinct to want to belong. Even if that community has a more malevolent purpose, those that are desperate for love will just want to belong. The saying of every child needing a village is so true, and in a society where society itself isn’t valued (according to Thatcherite and neoliberal principles) there is a falling through the gaps more and more of these angry, emotionally volatile young men.
Let me be clear as well: I believe that if young girls were raised along the same principles and thought processes and expectations that boys are, we would have exactly the same issue. I see no difference in emotional intelligence of girls up to the age of about 8 in those I’ve worked with. Society expects women to be in touch with our emotions; and for the most part, we are. Society expects men to suppress emotion on a grand scale, and for the most part, they do. Hence – if one looks at crime statistics, and abuse of power, attacks and other things that destroy our sense of well-being as communities and a society, one will find they mostly have, as a root, male disconnection from their emotional selves at the core.
This is not to reduce the absolute senseless, awful tragedy of lost lives in this attack and other attacks. It is just that I believe if we want a better society, and these sort of attacks to stop, we need to address the root causes. We can bring nothing with us into the afterlife – if there is even such a thing. All our energies must therefore be expended on (in the first instance) coming to a full understanding of ourselves and how we can overcome our own worst prejudices and accept ourselves and love ourselves. Secondly we go out in the world and help others, our communties on a small scale, or on a grand scale. For most of us, it will be on a small scale – and that is great. Every interaction we have with another human being has an effect. Sometimes it is difficult if the interaction itself is difficult. But there is great power in knowing that we can effect change, even in a small way.
Let’s really demand that, at another level, our politicians start investing in people rather than in bombs. If a group of people can spread this much terror with guns and what sounded like kitchen knives, we really have to question the practicalities of weapons like Trident. There are many layers to what is happening in the world, but addressing it with roots in teaching emotional intelligence, caring for each other in our communities and tribes and making sure our tax pounds/euros/dollars are directed to what is important rather than expansion of profits of the military industrial complex (banks, munitions, big pharma, energy companies) seems to be a good start. Most of all, let’s love. Let’s love ourselves and other human beings, with all of our collective faults and peculiarities and differences. Hell, let’s love ourselves because of our differences. We don’t see the rose hating on the chrysanthemum for being a different flower; as in nature, so should we be.