London: re-entering an abnormal normalcy

Sean O’Hagan recalls the time the troubles first impacted his life with a shooting and bombing of a pub in English Street, in Armagh City on the night of 22nd August 1975, and how it generated stories of fate and good luck that got people by in the short term, and gradualy gave out onto a larger scale fatalism that helped people endure the unpredictable violence of the following 20 years. He also recalls the night he was asked “to fight for Irish freedom”, and how the recent London bombing has raised some of those same issues from a semi distant past:

In the years that followed, others from my community did cross that line, and some of them undoubtedly were sent out to kill. Maybe they were brave and committed and I was a coward, but I think there was more to it than that – though I have never for the life of me been able to fully understand what.

On television last week I heard young Muslim men talk with conviction about the murder of their fellow Muslims in Iraq and Pakistan, some with the fire of youth, some as if in deep denial. Nothing they said could justify the slaughter of the innocents in London by misguided fanatics.

What is chilling is that this may just be the beginning of a gathering storm and those of us who protested that the war in Iraq was unjust and illegal, who consider Muslim lives in Falluja and Afghanistan as sacrosanct as lives in New York, Madrid or London, must somehow come to terms with the terror like everyone else, and yet not give into fear. This, then, is the question that echoes most loudly across the years: will the abnormally normal life of the small province in which I grew up become the template for all our lives?

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