Tenth anniversary of 7/7 bombings
Chris Allen, Lecturer in Social Policy
The tenth anniversary of the 7/7 London terror attacks will rightly focus on the sheer horror of the day's unfolding events and tragic loss of life. One cannot forget the shocking images of carnage and chaos that accompanied the news that four bombs - three on Underground trains, one on a double decker bus - had killed 52 civilians and injured more than 700 others.
The legacy left by these events has, however, been more far-reaching than might have been expected, having had something of a profound impact on how we live our everyday lives. From more security checks at airports and the increased monitoring of social media, the new counter-terror measures requiring public sector workers to play a greater role in combating extremism, and schools being required to teach 'British values', 7/7's impact has been significant.
A less obvious impact however can be seen in relation to Britain's multiculturalism and how we perceive our diversity.
To illustrate this, one only has to think about the day before 7/7. On that day, 6 July 2005, Britain won the right to host the 2012 Olympics in London. As celebrations took place in Trafalgar Square, many acknowledged how Britain's multiculturalism - 'The World in One City' - had been a distinctive and critical factor in the decision-making process.
24 hours later and Britain's multiculturalism was under a very different spotlight. Following the news that all of the 7/7 bombers were British-born, or 'home-grown' as it has been commonly referred to since, many began to search for answers about how this could have happened. For many, it was the inherent failings of Britain's multicultural social model that was to blame, so much so that a forceful political response to it was required.
This can be seen in a range of different policies that have emerged since, including those relating to preventing violent extremism, community cohesion, integration and citizenship among others. Maybe this is easier to see, however, in political discourses, in particular those of David Cameron who in recent years has variously called for the death of multiculturalism, for more muscular liberalism, and for us to be rather more intolerant of intolerance. Not only do these seemingly go against the ethos of multiculturalism but so too do they seem to disproportionately target Britain's Muslim communities as being where the 'problem' could be found.
Coupled with the recognition that being 'home-grown' meant that the perceived threat and subsequent fear was seen to be much closer and ever more real, this resulted in greater suspicion and mistrust being expressed towards British Muslims. As various pieces of research have since shown, this encouraged the formation of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy whereby everything Muslim and everything Islam has become established and embellished, and indeed accepted without question as posing a direct threat to 'our' culture, 'our' values, 'our' institutions and 'our' way of life.
As my own research has shown, this has been extremely detrimental. Feeling increasingly scrutinised and questioned, Britain's Muslims have responded by expressing concerns about their sense of belonging and identity as also what they believe to be ever more marginalisation and exclusion from wider society. Most worrying however has been the steady increase in levels of Islamophobia in particular as targets for discrimination and hate crime. In the immediate aftermath of 7/7, Tell MAMA’s data shows the number of attacks against Muslims increased by 573%. While far from being indicative of any normal week now, such attacks are ongoing and show no signs of decreasing.
But it isn't just Britain's Muslim communities where detrimental impacts have been experienced. 2014's British Social Attitudes Survey showed that the levels of racial prejudice in Britain are today at a 20 year high. Similar too with the number of Antisemitic attacks, at the highest ever since records began. Neither can we dismiss the ever more overt anti-immigrant sentiment that is now a staple of certain media outlets and political figures. What is most worrying is that at a time when Britain is becoming increasingly diverse, it would appear that we are also becoming increasingly intolerant: intolerant of our diversity and the differences that exist within it.
While the tenth anniversary will no doubt sharpen our thoughts for the next few days, as British society becomes ever more diverse and is faced with new and ever more demanding challenges, by British Muslims going to Syria and Iraq for instance, the shadow of 7/7 is likely to continue to shape and inform our thinking for some time yet.