Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hassan's postcards from Tavistock Square

Hassan has been corresponding with me. He is a young Muslim from Yorkshire, full of optimism and he has some interesting and encouraging things to say. His Letter to The Terrorists published in the Guardian on July 14th 2005 cheered and inspired me over the summer. I am now publishing his wonderful follow-up piece Postcards from Tavistock Square.

Hassan is a reason to be hopeful. Thank you Hassan.

UPDATE: and thank you from Holly, a 7th July survivor, and from Geoff.
Pssst...Please, someone publish Hassan soon. The world needs him. Hassan, write more!

August 2005 – A Muslim from Yorkshire
visits London again for the first time since July 7

Dear dead or alive terrorists (As Salaam Alaikum doesn't apply to you),

Just wanted you to know that I'm a still a Muslim, and I’m visiting London again today for the first time since you came here on July 7.

Arriving at King’s Cross Station, I find that the many flowers and messages of remembrance that were placed here have now been removed. But a few posters of a young man missing since July 7 remind me of what you did that day.

2 or 3 minutes walk down Euston Road I reach my first stop. The giant, red-brick building of the British Library. It’s believed one of you walked here from King’s Cross and continued further to get on a number 30 bus at Euston Station.

Whilst doing research in a British Library reading room, I notice a newspaper headline from centuries ago: The Tears of London. It shows me that written words can live on long after we’re dead and gone.

I often say that London isn’t in a different part of the country to people who live in the North. In social, economic and political terms, it’s in a different world altogether. The M25 based news media don’t say many Muslims in the North have never even visited London before. They won’t say it because a Cambridge or Oxbridge education doesn’t teach people how to walk in a Northerner’s shoes. Nor does it truly articulate how it feels to be a decent, law-abiding, hard-working Muslim, under constant suspicion in public places in this country and many other countries of the world today. Yet still, the news media reaffirm daily, the best spokes-Muslims in the country be the dumbest ones can they find. Does it even matter if they can speak English? The news media make it easy to address a nation if you demand an end to it, because love is a four-letter word they don’t want to promote.

7/7 is one of the most profound tragedies in my lifetime, which killed 56 people here in London. As a young boy in 1985, I witnessed a fire that killed 56 football fans at Bradford City. So I think I’ve learned a little about how to deal with tragedy.. Because no one ever answers questions you’re not supposed to ask.

Leaving the British Library, I cross Euston Road and walk a few minutes further to Upper Woburn Place. The flowers and messages to remember people killed on July 7 have also been removed from outside St. Pancras Church too. A few seconds further along Upper Woburn Place, and I’m suddenly confronted by the BMA building’s white walls. I’m here. This is it.

Bloomsbury is quite a peaceful part of central London. A sea of scenic park squares. Bloomsbury Square. Russell Square. Queen’s Square. And the now well known place where I’m now standing..

Remembrance grows stronger every year here in Tavistock Square.. A cherry tree was planted in the park here in August 1967 to commemorate the victims of the Hiroshima atom bombing. The Virginia Woolf memorial reminds us that in 1924 she lived at number 52 Tavistock Square. Active non-violence is honoured with a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. The blue plaque on the BMA building says Charles Dickens lived here in 1851. There’s also a Holocaust memorial, and a memorial to Conscientious Objectors, a cause which asserts that citizens with moral or religious objections to killing people should be exempt from military conscription. No matter what phoney war you brought to London on July 7, peace was blossoming here before you arrived, and it’s still growing stronger and stronger everyday. If you’re looking for trouble, not only did you wrongly target innocent people, you even came to the wrong place.. Tavistock Square, is a place where people unite and stand together in peace.

7 days before you came here, on Thursday morning, June 30 2005, I attended a doctor’s appointment at Great Ormond Street. It’s 3 minutes walk from Tavistock Square and 1 minute from Russell Square Tube Station. Publishers and related businesses occupy many of these streets, and during my June 30 visit I passed by Faber & Faber’s offices which invoked sudden flashbacks. I recalled secretly writing them a book proposal as a schoolboy up North in West Yorkshire. A 15-year-old Muslim in Bradford with unspoken ambitions to send out messages to the whole world he knew so very little about. Like all of you, I never let anyone find out what I was doing. Because I didn’t believe anyone would really understand why I wanted to do it.

Today, I have kept the letter at home for what would have been my next doctor’s appointment at Great Ormond Street, on the morning of Thursday, July 7 2005. I was so unhappy with my doctor when he cancelled it. But were it not for him disagreeing with me, I might have met one of you and looked into your eyes. So today, today I wrote my name and words inside the BMA’s remembrance book.. “I’ll never forget what happened, and I pray that one day I can help make the world more peaceful and loving.”

It’s a beautiful, sunny, August day here in Bloomsbury. I sit on a bench in Tavistock Square Park listening to Nevermind The Bollocks on my CD walkman, and watch workmen replacing the BMA building’s broken windows, because of what you did.. The Sex Pistols are my kind of freedom fighters. 4 young, British men, who believed in freedom enough, and loved the people enough, to shout out loud what they truly believed inside. And in the phoney terrorist war which people call inevitable, these 12 brutal hymns never flinch when articulating what I think many young people still feel today.

Outside Tavistock Square Park, I stand on the pavement and begin to look upwards at the now invisible, yet unerasable blood on the walls of the BMA building. I search higher for some clear answers in today’s cloudless, blue sky. And search. And search.. 13 people stopped living on this road in front of me, because of you.. A workman, I think, appears across the road. As I stare up at the sky, he stares over at me. And stares. And there we are.. Frozen. With me looking to the sky. And him looking at me.. And my black rucksack. This small road between us, is filled with the silent nightmares and falling tears of future generations. The silence of our times, and the tears of London.. The now invisible, yet unerasable wreckage, of the number 30 bus, which ended its final journey right here. If by some miracle someone ever reads these words centuries from now, I pray they help you start what needs to be started, so you can stop what needs to be stopped. I pray that evil isn’t as inevitable in your lifetime as people say it is in mine.

Here in Tavistock Square, I remember simple, universal lessons, which generations before me learned: God burdens no woman or man with more than they can bear. Everything happens for a reason. No problem is ever presented without the solution first being given. And y’know what? These simple lessons, they just don’t tell me why a Muslim youth, who was born and grew up a few miles from where I was born and still live, could travel so far from our home in the North of England, to kill himself and 12 other innocent people in this little Bloomsbury street.

I decide I better give up on the blue sky and speak to the man across the road. Turning away from him, I walk back to the pelican crossing we’ve all seen in the photographs of the number 30 bus. As I cross the road I notice the man is quickly walking away. His departure is a timely reminder that my questions can never be answered. No police investigation will show me conclusive evidence. This government will not support a public enquiry.. And no religion or politician will show us how to stop this from happening again.. The best message I have is in my rucksack on the front of my writing folder.. a printed e-mail I received after writing
Letter to the Terrorists
, sent to me by Ian Brown, the singer from The Stone Roses: “Keep the faith kid, ‘cause you know it’s gonna go beyond a headache.”

Inevitable terrorism means nothing to an eternal optimist like me. But rush-hour London buses and tube trains have now sadly become another symbol for the end of youth innocence. Like John Lennon signing his last autograph for Mark David Chapman. Like Kurt Cobain picking up his shotgun and walking to the shed. Like the blood on the white walls of the BMA building, here in Tavistock Square. 7/7 was not inevitable to me. It was just evil. A foolish, empty revolution. Redundant fundamentalism. Wordless cause. Pointless thoughts. Innocent targets. Whose deaths will never. Ever. Save. Muslim. Lives.

We must never give up on good. And if we call terrorism inevitable, then it sounds to me like we have done. So we’re gonna need a bigger vote. One that sends the politicians to fight their own phoney war, instead of bringing phoney war to my favourite city.

Inevitable (adjective): incapable of being avoided or prevented; "the inevitable result" noun: an unavoidable event; "don't argue with the inevitable"

I’m making new friends everywhere I go in London now. When staff at entrance checkpoints search everyone’s bags, I hand them my rucksack and thank them.. And I smile at them so genuinely, they can’t help but share a smile with me. And pretty women on the bus and tube, they keep a watchful eye on Muslims like me (and my rucksack) like never before. I love London so much.. It will always be the greatest city on God’s Earth.. The best museums. My favourite theatres. The British Library. And my gloriously simple bus journeys over the bridges of the River Thames that will live forever. Sitting upstairs at the front of a London bus is poverty’s London Eye. And in God’s eyes we’re all created equally, even if Muslims are now seen differently.

Everyday-people like me, consciously educating themselves to write and communicate their own life experiences to the world, may be the greatest weapon against governments and terrorists who claim to speak for so many of us, and yet in truth only represent their own isolated ignorance, corruption, and fear. Real bravery, would never, ever, kill as many innocent people as possible on a rush-hour tube train or bus. Real bravery, would never, ever, mislead an entire nation and send its soldiers to fight a phoney war, in the name of peace. Only fake, sexed-up rhetoric, and genuine cowardice, would ever do these things to us.

I honestly don't care who disagrees with me anymore, so long as they disagree peacefully. We can go our own separate ways after the discussion.. And at least this way we can live to see another day and have another chance at working towards a civilised agreement. Humanity, has already marched across the world to say that both war and terrorism are violently disagreeable to humanity. Centuries from now, humanity will wonder just how and why both war and terrorism ever had to happen again and again and again and again and stop! and again and please don't do this again! and again and again and again.

In these difficult days, I often lose sight of who I really am and become overwhelmed by the public’s constant suspicion of me and other Muslims. I feel like Lily Tomlin once said: “We’re all in this alone.”
I forget there’s never been a better time to be a Muslim than right now. I forget that it’s always a great day to be alive.

Being here today.. It’s really helped me to remember.

Hassan, Tavistock Square, London
August 9 2005

© Hassan 2005

email hassanwillbeking AT


Blogger Aidan said...

That Euston Road walk, down from Camden, along Southampton Row, to Holborn, is beautiful anyway. Those artfully-manicured garden squares with their potfully-planted peace memorials... All very calming yet visual, whatever the emotional background.

January 13, 2006 5:15 am  
Blogger Holly Finch said...

thank you so much for posting that....beautifully moving...inspiring...fills me with warmth & hope x

January 13, 2006 10:09 am  
Blogger The Great Blandini said...

I am pretty new to your blog, Rachel, and not a Londoner, but I am glad you are here, and blogging.

More power to you, with peace and hope.


P.S. 11.11am and still wading through essay.....

January 13, 2006 11:14 am  
Blogger ozzyru27 said...

Dear Rachel
I have recently become quite a regular viewer to your blog, and am always intrigued and in ore of your strength and words, and of course its always magical reading to me to see other who love London the way I do, its true beauty and inspiration it holds in every crack and crevice. I am an artist and studied at Saint Martin's, whenever I am in need of inspiration and sometimes in dire straights with what or how I am going to paint something when as we all do, just can't work anymore, I always walk through London and once again my inspiration has been thrown at me and sudenyl I never just walk but mentally take note of every person, evey paving stone, every brick and glass window, and suddenly London becomes alive and I have found my painting, go home and paint.
I people watch when Im in London, as Im sure many of us do, especially now, but I have done for years, sitting in green park, seeking out every person, wondering their job status, where they live, how they feel from day to day, whether they drive, catch a bus, geton a tube from day to day for another mundane yet beautiful day in London, I just sit and ponder and I never fail to find some magic.
I have such a small memory of one wednesday morning when I was travelling into Stratford station on the bus, for another days work, and feeling, as we all do in the morning, pretty awful, hung over, tired and generally wishing the day was over and I was at home in bed with a up of hot chocolate and the tv. I was watching up to the top of the flat roofed houses with the flower beds lining the windows, typical east end house, and as I stared a pigeon started looking back at me. Crazy i know, and as I said I was incredibly tired, but nevertheless, here was this pigeon watching me nearly eye level at the tp of the bus and as he looked around he wanted to walk furthur along the window but the flowers were in the way. You could see him wondering and thinking and then he carefully stepped over each and every flower head, looking down at every pace and as soon as he got to the ned he flew away.
Madness I'm sure, but I saw in the first few minutes of steping outside my then London home a tiny piece of beauty. The bedragled house was only illuminated by the pansies and roses that lined the windows and so he made darn sure he wasn't going to step on them and he achieved it remarkably!!!

You can never fail but to see beauty in London wherever you go, even wheh this has been tarnished to such an incredible degree it is still there, and alwasy will be. To get to the main point of my admission, today I have just read silently the letter published by a young northern muslim, a letter to the terrorist and again a small piece of magic has come through from London town.
I feel by the enormity of power and emotion that the writing holds itself there is little I can say but, what a beautiful letter.

Ruth x

January 13, 2006 11:53 am  
Blogger The Great Blandini said...

Having finshed my essay, and handed it in, I just read Hassan's piece properly.

Beautiful and true.

Thank you for posting it.

January 13, 2006 11:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The email is a hoax, Rachel is fake, Leeds bombers framed, no proof they were in London despite the BS on this blog.

January 16, 2006 10:15 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Am leaving that comment up here, despite the fact that I have been urged to remove ofensive anonymous trolling comments, just to show what some conspiracy theorists are like - thank you.

January 16, 2006 2:21 pm  
Blogger steve said...

What an inspiring chap! I think he articulates what hopefully nearly all of us feel, in the words of Ian Brown, "Keep the Faith..." Hope to hear more from Hassan in the future.
Keep it up! Steve

January 16, 2006 8:54 pm  
Blogger The Great Blandini said...

Rachel - your anonymous poster is hilarious!
Does he write for TV?
They should snap him up - satirical writing of that quality shouldn't be lost to the nation.
Though it would benefit him if he actually left his name.

Or her, obviously.
Or it.

Why is the internet so full of loonies?

January 17, 2006 11:25 pm  
Blogger High Heels said...

I find it difficult to believe in the persona of Hussan... it doesn't ring true to me. Not that I don't believe that British Muslims are a peaceful and reflective community: far from it- I lived in Beeston for many years, moving out a couple of years before 7/7 happened, and have my own personal reasons and resonances to mourn the suffering caused then and since and have witnessed the pain caused to friends in the Muslim community. I find it hard to credit as authentic, for example, the glowing reference to Never Mind the Bollocks as inspirational: as an ex-punk, and very much older than Hussan (of an age to have actually been a fan of TSP) this immediately struck me as incongruent. "I want to destroy the passer by"
. I suspect Hussan is actually a middle-aged white liberal with a penchant for writing. I'd be interested to be proved wrong, but I doubt any proof will be forthcoming. Cheers/ salam alaikum. E.

February 06, 2011 6:47 pm  

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