When the Blitz spirit turned into an inbox bombardment

Much
has been made in recent weeks of British stoicism, the stiff upper lip,
the Blitz spirit and so on in the wake of 7 July and the attempted
terrorist attacks in London last week. It has, to a large degree, been
made by the media. A label we have sought to stick on the public,
rather than the public saying it themselves.

Consider for
instance, all this stuff about millions going back on the tube,
business as usual and so forth – as if those millions had any choice in
the matter of either working, or how to get to work, come to that.

So
what’s really cooking in the minds of people? This – in terms of
videophones, texts and emails – has been absolutely a response of the
21st century.

And when you look at what people email us, the
broadcasters, the picture you get is utterly different from this bland
appendage of Dunkirk spirithood, worn with pride on the chest of every
tube-goer. Few even mentioned the public mood at, or near, the disaster
in those terms.

This was about as near as our emailers come to
the blanket badge the media wanted to stick on the public: “Everyone
did their bit and there was no panic, in fact there was a feeling of
camaraderie among us all.”

That was emailed, along with the
practical suggestion that taxis could actually pick up more than one
passenger at times like this.

Some emailers, very early on into events, were prescient to the point of being spooky.

One
man emailed from Plymouth saying: “King’s Cross may have been a meeting
place for the bombers… they could have converged on King’s Cross
station… disembarking there…”

This was sent to us on 9 July,
several days before forensic evidence led the police to Leeds and CCTV
put four suspected bombers converging at King’s Cross just before 8.30
that Thursday morning.

As politicians as far as the eye can see
fall over themselves not to mention Iraq or Afghanistan (Charles
Kennedy and George Galloway excepted) many of our viewers are having
none of it.

“Doesn’t it occur to anyone that we were warned that
going to war with Irak (sic) would increase terrorism? And so it has.
Irak is a blood-bath and Britain looks set to follow suit.

Who’s next?” emailed one woman who questioned if we had learned anything from Northern Ireland.

Another
wrote: “Please, please have some experts on your show to discuss by
what factor has Tony Blair’s foreign policy incited these terrorists
that attacked London.”

And a man emailed from Devon to say
Blair’s policies have made people hate us and the only defence is to
not be so thoroughly hated: “It does mean we have to let go of the
fantasy that we can fight terror from 30,000 feet with bombs which
kill, I am afraid to say, many more innocent civilians than were killed
in London on Thursday.”

There were many, many more such emails.

Yet
making this connection – rightly or wrongly – was scarcely addressed in
the major news bulletins for some time. Even now there is the suspicion
that TV news is out of kilter with public feeling on this.

It’s a hard issue, but one that could and should have been addressed, on the day.

Indeed, it was when we interviewed an Iraqiborn dentist whose practice overlooks the Edgware Road tube station.

He
said this happens all the time in Baghdad and questioned whether double
standards were at work – British lives being more valued than Iraqi
lives?

A former Londoner, now living in the north, emailed to
say: “Yesterday was about London not Iraq; that is a decision for
another day and I for one don’t think it’s appropriate for your news
coverage to include such comments on such a sad day.”

In that
regard, emailers seemed evenly split about whether Galloway – featured
on our late-night special that night – was talking utter treasonable
guff, or was the only man in public life prepared to tell the truth, in
making a cause-and-effect link between London, Baghdad and Kabul.

There
is too, real, ominous fear and prejudice out there. With it, the search
for the scapegoat. And the scapegoat for these viewers is the Muslim
community.

Comments here vary from claiming that a British Muslim
is a contradiction in terms and saying it is all down to lax border
controls.

This email typified the general tone, in blending fear
and ignorance: “British-born Muslims have not the slightest shred of
loyalty to the UK. Ultimately the only country they have any genuine
loyalty towards is Saudi Arabia and Makkah… The question for British
society must therefore be ‘Why should I consider them to be British
when they don’t consider themselves to be British?'”

You’ll not be surprised to hear there has been plenty of this – and worse.

However,
from Muslims themselves, the following emailer described himself as
North African, liberal and open-minded and makes the following simple
point: “I would like you to stress to your viewers that many thousands
of Muslims in Iraq and other places (Afghanistan, Egypt, etc) have been
killed by extremist Islamists. We are far more the victims of these
sick psychopaths than the Western world.”

As ever, many in the
inbox were wonderfully batty. One person was seriously concerned to
take cyclists from the streets. They all wear those funny face-mask
smog-buster things on their faces – a disguise, surely? And as for
their backpacks… Unaccountably, some thought the rescue effort in the
tunnels had been tardy. Others were astonished that, as events
unfolded, those in charge of the transportation of millions of people
across one of the world’s biggest cities by area, should have succumbed
to a degree of confusion.

All the talk about the power surge was
put down to sinister media conspiracy to hide the truth from the
public, for reasons not disclosed by the emailer – nor the broadcasters
for that matter!

Others were aghast that either the British Grand
Prix or the “Test Match” at Lords, as they called it, should have been
allowed to go ahead.

But one thing we, along with all our
competitors, also had to deal with in the inbox were the simple pleas
from people out there who, having gone from hospital to hospital had
turned up no sign of their friend or relative.

Finally, in despair, they turned to us in an appeal for information.

One small sample from a few days, perhaps. Every broadcaster’s inbox will tell a similar story I suspect, as will those of the newspapers. And it is this: the public, as ever, defy the crude blanket labelling they are getting from the media.

In stark contrast to the US after 11 September, people are asking, why do they hate us? And drawing some stark conclusions.

But they are full of suggestions, hopes, prejudices and of course pain.

Pain that will still be felt long after the news agenda has moved on.

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