London, July 7, 2005. I was there.

Jul 10, 2006

A few days late, but still.

London, July 7, 2005.

I was there.

I was in a hotel on Russell Square. The stay itself was pretty uneventful, I was there for just one night. Got up late around 8 as I usually do, had breakfast, packed up, went down to check out a bit after 9.

“Sir, we can’t check you out.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s a security situation outside on the street. We can’t let anyone out.”

“Well… what should I do?”

“We’re assembling everyone in the large ballroom. Please proceed there.”

And so I did. They didn’t give us further information at the time, but I sensed that something is wrong. What I’ve learned is that the best in these situations is just to comply. So I assembled in the large ballroom where everyone was. They kept us locked in the hotel for the hours to come.

I’m not sure if it’s “fortunately” or “ironically” or just “coincidentally”, but there was a staff conference scheduled for Network Rail at the same hotel, about the topic of “crisis management”. And as some guy from Network Rail said to the microphone, “we had a meeting about crisis management. Today, your crisis management skills will be put to good use.” I haven’t had a chance to say this before, but I’d like to thank everyone at the venue from Network Rail for professionally managing the people and information. All havoc would have been broken loose otherwise.

They wouldn’t turn on the TV to hear the news. They said it was a conscious choice to not escalate the panic further. In retrospect, it was a wise choice, because what happened “out there” did not really matter at the specific time. It mattered later of course, but if your personal life and security is literally on stake, you don’t need to know how many people were killed or trains blown up. You just want to make sure that you yourself will make it out of there in one piece.

We were kept locked up for hours. The mobile channels were overloaded, but there was wifi. I was able to get my colleagues on Skype to let them know that even though I was pretty much in one of the epicenters, I was alive and in one piece.

The hotel catered us lunch on their expense. Thanks.

Finally, they told us we could go if we wanted, but we couldn’t come back until an unknown later time. That was fine with me, since I had to catch a plane later that day anyway from Heathrow. I was unsure if I could make it to the airport, since all rail traffic was temporarily suspended, including Gatwick and Heathrow Express. Still, I figured I’d take my chances and set off on foot from Russell Square to Paddington Station at around 2 p.m. And fair enough, after an hour’s walk or so (I got a good stroller suitcase so that was fine), I made it to the train where the traffic had been restored, and later to home.

It was the closest that I’ve ever come to terrorism myself. And it reassured what I know many others believe in. I believe there are some universal values which go above countries, lifestyles, cultures and languages. And namely, whatever the cause, there’s no justification for violence.

There was a gentleman not so long ago who promoted and propagandized “Die Fahne ist mehr als der Tod”. In English, “the flag is more than the death”. Whatever your cause is, in my view, there is no flag that is worth more than a single human life.

You may blow up trains and buses and kill some innocent bystanders in the process. You may incite some panic as a side effect. But you won’t win, because you can’t win by killing.

I have a longer post still to write up about the longer and deeper implications of everything going on in the Middle East – the Jyllands Posten imagery; burning Danish and EU flags even though they’re the largest contributors to independent Palestine; why all the violence happens only where the climate is hot; why it shouldn’t be a surprise to everyone that Hamas won the Palestine election; all those things. There are many intertwined causes and effects here, but to me it boils down to the same thing.

You can’t win by killing those who have nothing to do with your cause, or killing anyone at all.