July 7, 2008 Posted by Tahir in Travel


It’s three years ago today that London was terrorised by bombs on the transport network. The TV captured the wounded: blood spilling over faces, the look of fear and pain in the eyes of random victims. They could have been any of us, and that’s where the real terror comes in. And the news today is of killing at the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Dozens dead for no real reason at all. Again, random people.

The London bombs changed the way I live my life. And it happened in a round about way. As I have published recently in In Arabian Nights, I was travelling in Pakistan with two Swedish colleagues a week after the bombs. Directives from London and Washington had encouraged the Pakistanis to clamp down on anyone suspicious, anyone suspicious with a British passport and a Muslim-sounding name. I turned up and the alarm bells sounded. We were arrested and spent the next sixteen days and sixteen fearful nights in a Pakistani torture jail.

I don’t usually write about this stuff. I leave that to all the others who have much to say. But my life changed on 7/7/05, and it’s something that I think of a great deal. Before that date I had been affected like all of us by 9/11… but had not really been touched more than superficial inconvenience (paying more for flights, airport security lines etc). Before 7/7 I lived a nice little life. And I used to think to myself that it could never really get wrapped up in something linked to Al Qaeda and Taliban.

The big change was having my life taken away. Stripped clean off my back. And I was suddenly like a guy in one of those Hollywood flicks, desperately trying to get reconnected with his life. I remember sitting there in a cell, or worse — in the torture room — going over the ins and outs of a multicultural life. I was born in England but to mixed Anglo-Asian ancestry. My wife is from India, and I live in Morocco. At the time we were arrested in Peshawar, my colleagues and me were travelling by land from India to Afghanistan, to make a documentary.

What’s more, my passport is covered in stamps from obscure tin-pot countries. And I don’t have a real job, not the sort of thing you can quantify with a salary and a title. Try explaining all this to someone who’s never heard anything like it, and you get a very big mess.

I knew that with time the mess would get unravelled. Or rather I hoped it would. And I hoped too that we could pick up and move on out, carry on with what we were doing. But at the same time I knew something big had happened, something that had broken the life I lived before.

And every night when I watch the news and hear of the deaths in far away Afghanistan (in particular, as that’s a place I know), I feel despondent. The sadness comes from knowing that there is no honour in any of it. This is a war that winning will only return us to a kind of shaky status quo. There’ll be no victory parades. And in the time it takes to win it, the only certainty is that thousands, or millions, of innocent lives will end just as they did in London three years ago today.


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