07/07 in Russell Square

Hey from (somewhat sunny) London where I doing research at the British Library, like last year, except this year I’m living in an apartment I’m subletting near Russell Square, which is like 5 minutes on foot from the British Library. This proximity has made my life here blissfully convenient; all of down-town London is walkable from my door. The Russell Square tube stop is literally across the street from this flat. And the flat comes with wifi internet. This is at least ten times better than last year’s living arrangements, possibly as many as fourteen times better. I will possibly post on my routine here and some of the other things I’ve been up to in the last week (I visited York with Jenna and her parents, among other things), but today I want to write about my encounter with and feelings about a 07/07 memorial that was going on in front of the Russell Square tube stop, like I said, right outside my door.

I woke up, per usual, well after everyone else in the this time zone had already put a couple productive hours behind them. Given this laziness on my part, I found when I turned on my computer and looked at the NYT website that they had already snapped a picture of a group of police officers standing in front of the Russell Square tube stop, commemorating the time of the attack, which I had, again, slept through. When I left my flat, I found that there remained a group of people who were in front of the tube stop–police officers, Underground workers, reporters, tourists, locals. I wasn’t quite sure what they were up to, so I tried to get into a Tesco that is across the street from the tube stop in order to grab some lunch for myself. A woman was blocking the way and for some reason I got it in my head that the Tesco was closed.

“Is the Tesco closed?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “We’re going to be having a moment of silence.”

I realized then that there would be, as there had been last year, a moment of silence at noon. I joined the crowd for the moment of silence, not because I enjoy participating in such silent moments–I am not a person who enjoys symbolic acts for their own sake–but because I wanted to get my lunch from the Tesco afterward. Noon was marked by a chime and everyone put their heads down. Some of the tube workers were visibly crying or shaking. I felt kind of numb. There was a young man next to me who, during the two minutes held up his right hand in a peace-symbol.

Afterward, a group of us walked towards the entrance of the Tesco and a police officer who had been standing near the door turned to the young man, who was with a friend, and said:

“What was that thing all about?”

“What?” the young man asked.

“The thing with the fingers.”

“It was a peace sign.”

The police officer paused.

“Well,” he finally said, “If anyone had complained about that, I would have arrested you for disturbing the peace.”

The young man didn’t say anything to the police officer, but muttered a joke about the irony of being accused of disturbing the peace for making a peace sign.

I, on the other hand, was not too happy about the implication of what the officer had said. Almost instinctively, I addressed him:

“Sir, there’s nothing wrong with what he did. There’s nothing wrong with that.” For some reason, I felt the need to repeat myself. Although I hadn’t felt a great deal of emotion during the two minutes of silence, I suddenly felt furious that the officer would even imply that he might arrest the young man. A comment like that seemed to violate the spirit of the sort of society the officer would have claimed to be defending.

But then, we should be clear. The officer knew exactly what the young man was saying with his fingers and the young man knew he wasn’t making a neutral call for world peace, or any such thing. In our current political climate, even merely calling for peace is a criticism, or implied criticism, of the U.S.’s and Britain’s foreign policy. The officially sanctioned response, it seems, isn’t a call for peace but a willingness to go along with war. By making the peace sign, the young man was suggesting that to rain down carnage on others is counter-productive to the goal of preventing it from coming to us. Making a peace sign, a symbolic act that seemed completely pointless to me, is apparently a dangerous act. I regret now that I didn’t join the young man yesterday.