We are heading into perilous waters with UK citizens now caught
between the violent nihilists who can and will kill to destabilise
the country and unreliable political leaders who know well enough
that these bombers are children of the times they have ruled over.
These vile acts cannot be excused, must not be excused, but it is
disingenuous of Blair and Straw to now lay all responsibility on
In this volatile landscape relevant authorities have to keep us
safe and sane and not allow themselves to be swept up by the
national mood. As other attacks – less lethal yet even more
heartless than the first explosions – have burst upon the capital,
defiance is giving way to fear, fury and hatred. The Monitoring
Group website, which systematically records known racial and ethnic
attacks, listed 500 incidents where the victims were muslim. Some
were low-level acts to unnerve and humiliate; others were violent
and included arson, attacks with stones, bottles and fists. One man
has died in a street assault. The British National Party and other
far-right groups are exploiting the bombs for recruitment purposes;
young muslims are reacting to these provocations and at times
instigating their own acts of violence and antisocial behaviour.
Our complicated, multifarious country has managed to mostly hold
together, even thrive, as diversity deepens and now defines who we
are. The irony is that our successful Olympic bid projected Britain
as an unstoppable, visionary rainbow nation stronger than the
racism and inter-ethnic strife which periodically breaks out. The
London bombs have confounded that reality and much more so the
dream. London reacted well, with unity and courage. But now comes
The police, security services, intelligence services, teachers,
doctors, nurses and social workers must keep their heads when all
those around them are losing theirs. It can’t be easy. But it is
the duty of public servants to act with constancy, fairness and
professionalism whatever the circumstances.
In this aftermath, the families of the dead and maimed will need
short-term and long-term bereavement counselling, psychiatric and
psychological help, social work support and rehabilitation. So many
people in their prime were cut down and destroyed, hundreds of
their loved ones will not know how to cope in these dark days.
It is a mammoth task and our excellent professionals will have to
rise to it. But what about the families of the suicide bombers?
They too are bereaved and yet presumed guilty in some way. The
nation will not have any spare sympathy for them, yet it must.
There are pregnant wives, little children, weeping mothers and
fathers awash with shame, bewilderment, terrible fear, perhaps
permanent inner chaos. Who will take care of them? Is there any
training and literature on the humane way to treat the bereaved
kith and kin of suicide bombers?
I imagine many social workers will go into muslim homes now with
some trepidation – the murderers were so normal and they were
British. One even worked with children who had special educational
needs. Prejudices rise to new heights during times of crisis. Trust
evaporates – even if leaders say the right things and try to manage
the situation. There is bound to be more vitriol and anger between
muslims and other Asians, sikhs in particular but others too. I
have already had some abuse as a muslim woman from hindu
fundamentalists who say we are nothing but trouble. Expect tensions
between black christians and muslims too; then the racist backlash
which will penetrate the police, and other services and inevitably
social work departments.
Department heads, managers, supervisors all will have to instigate
tough new guidelines and monitor practice. It is possible that
in-service training courses will have to be arranged to sensitise
individuals to their own feelings about the atrocities and how
these could affect interactions with muslim clients. Perhaps some
information dissemination too will be required about the peaceful
messages of Islam, messages that are losing out in the ideological
battles within the faith. The test will be whether social workers
can see themselves supporting all citizens to survive their anguish
with sensitivity and courage. I do hope most good social workers
will feel this is something they can and would want to do.
<25CF> See feature, page 24
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a writer and broadcaster