Proud to call myself a Londoner

South China Morning Post  |  Jul 20, 2005

By Sin-ming Shaw

Last Thursday, London and Europe observed two minutes of silence to commemorate and honour those killed in the London bombings. I was among those who observed the silence, at noon, with barely controlled emotions because I am, now, a Londoner on at least two levels.

First, I live here. Any random attack on its inhabitants could be an attack on me. I could easily have been among the victims on the Tube, as I had plans to do some work in the library at the School of Oriental and African Studies, at the University of London. The nearest Underground station is Russell Square, where scores died.

Second, during the memorial silence, one of the signs displayed read: "One World, One City." London is a prime example of that sentiment.

Not even New York, my former home, matches the cosmopolitan culture that has evolved in London. I believe this city is a far more multicultural, cosmopolitan, tolerant, vivacious, creative metropolis. I lived in New York for exactly those reasons - and they have now drawn me to London.

There is another reason that I am a Londoner. The late US president John F. Kennedy famously declared: "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner), on the Berlin Wall in 1963. On the day after September 11, Le Monde, the premier French newspaper, declared on its front page: "We are all Americans."

These sentiments of solidarity were less about politics than about sharing certain basic values - human freedom and the individual's right to life, liberty and happiness. London captures these sentiments like no other city I know. I am therefore proud to call myself a Londoner.

The old global dividing lines pitched rich countries against poor ones, Christians versus Muslims, Jews against Arabs, and so on. But now, all that is obsolete.

There is only one relevant demarcation line in today's increasingly globalised world: it cuts across nationalities, cultures, races and religions, dividing people into the "smart" and the "dumb".

In China, for instance, the "smart" ignore the official, nationalistic jingoism and go straight from the best universities to the best companies. In India, the smart ignore their caste and scramble for a place at the India Institute of Technology.

The "dumb" believe that selected excerpts from the Koran, Bible, Communist Manifesto or Mao Zedong Thought are sufficient intellectual and moral guides to live a better life. These simplistic tracts lead to only one end: the dead one.

Many say it is impossible to fight fanatics on the streets of Baghdad or London. But it is not true that such nihilistic terrorism cannot be defeated. The history of the world is full of positive thinking and increasing human freedoms. These freedoms are based on science and humanistic values that promote the individual's right to life, liberty and happiness.

Nihilism, class hatred, imperialism, dictatorships of any hue - political or religious - have never lasted. And they will not last. In the end, the majority in the Islamic world will be the ultimate disciplinarians of these wayward, "dumb" fanatics who seek only destruction, not knowing they are parodying a famous Mao Zedong sound bite: "Without destruction, no construction."

By "construction", Mao meant a country modelled after his megalomaniacal image. It failed. What would "construction" mean to the bombers? A religious society presided over by medieval Islamic leaders who think the Koran is the only book to read? Or led by Osama bin Laden? Whatever they thought would come after "destruction", it is clear nothing constructive will follow.

They, like all nihilists before them, will fail.

Sin-ming Shaw, a visiting scholar at Columbia University, currently resides in London

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