I play back that morning in my head on a regular basis. I get to Clapton train station – only to miss my train. Great, another 20 minutes’ wait for the next one; but strangely, another train pulls into the station five minutes later. Odd, since like most things that day, this has never happened to me before or since. Must be my lucky day.
At Liverpool Street station I switch to the Circle line. I was on my way to the Home Office to take part in an event celebrating a government project called theRussell commission, which was about encouraging young people to get involved in volunteering.
The train got halfway through the tunnel. First, a loud popping sound, like stepping on an inflated juice carton, followed by a sudden jolt forward, and then total darkness. Forty-five minutes waiting to be freed from the train, paramedics attending the wounded. Being told by the police that it was OK for us to leave, only for us to walk around the block in a zombie-like state. Taken to hospital on a commandeered bus. Hospital waiting room, TV screen, newscast – bombings across London. Shell shock. I’ve played that over and over in my head for 10 years now.
The scene outside the hospital pretty much summed up what the rest of my experience was going to be like. Being wide-eyed and extremely naive, I put myself forward to answer their questions. Journalists wanted to know my opinions on terrorism, as if being a Muslim suddenly made me an expert. I was expected to explain why these things had happened. What’s it like following an ideology that also has a bunch of maniacs in its midst, even if they are in the minority and only claim to believe in the same thing you do. Even when their actions tell you they clearly don’t. Sadly I was treated more like a suspect than a victim.
I was 24 years old, and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but I felt that I needed to answer questions from the media, because I felt that if didn’t speak up, who would? In the end, it seemed that some people simply blamed the acts of individuals on an entire community; but this is nothing new. Tony Blair once blamed the “black community” for gang violence. As though having the same skin colour instantly means you must have some insight as to why someone is inherently violent.
Now David Cameron is claiming that some Muslims are quietly condoning extremism. But there is no Muslim community, not in the way it is presented by any political narrative or the press. There are Turkish Muslims in Hackney, Bangladeshi Muslims in Aldgate and Indian Muslims in Leicester, many different groups with different social and economic issues. There are even Welsh Muslims in Wales. That’s right, white, native Muslims who were traditional peace-loving British citizens just days prior to their conversion, but now have become condoners of violence by default. Like an extremist light switch. One minute you are normal and the next you are combustive.
I am tired of having to explain that I am not guilty by association, though I do feel guilt. Not for being Muslim, but for surviving. I used to go to the memorial service every year in Hyde Park, but I can’t go any more. It is still too painful, and there are times when I hate myself for having lived when others died. For the anniversary this year I’ll be spending time with my family, but also just getting on with life, since to prevent myself from doing otherwise would let evil win.
Every time a similarly terrible event happens, I watch everything happen on cue, from the cinematic nature of presenting tragedy live on air, to day two, when the opinion pieces on why Muslims are bad for not speaking out start being written. It now feels almost normal to be blamed for something I had no part in.
In the race to find answers in the days and weeks after 7/7, it seemed like we all heard a million stupid opinions, while those of us unlucky enough to been part of such a horrible event were often ignored. At the time I felt really angry at how I was treated by a lot of people – many times I was told to “just get over it”. It took the best part of three years before I considered myself “recovered”.
My main motivation to speak up now is because I see the same thing happen again and again. So I would like to offer some advice to all. When a person goes through a traumatic event, please be aware that they will feel a barrage of emotions, and your duty is not to explain to them why or how they are feeling. Neither is it your place to judge how they feel. If you must do something, then simply listen. Ignore the rolling news that likes to position itself as more important then the lives of ordinary people who are caught up in these horrific crimes, with soundbites from the privileged outweighing the voices of those who actually suffer.
Shut up and listen. Because even as a Turkish/Cypriot/Macedonian Muslim born and raised in England who proudly calls himself British, who lived through these events and has witnessed many others, even I really don’t know why these things happen, but in truth, the chances are that neither do you.