"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." (Samuel Johnson to James Boswell)
Today's events have got me thinking about London: the place where I work; and birthplace of my parents and grandparents, and its place in the world. London is the greatest city in the world, and might just be the greatest city in history. So it's no wonder that in the last two days London was chosen by the International Olympic Committee to host the 2012 games, and by al-Qaeda as the target of their latest outrage.
No other place has had more influence over the world than London. It is at the centre of the modern world, a world that it helped to create. Modern experimental science was born in the laboratories of the Royal Society. Modern democratic politics developed in the Palace of Westminster, the "mother of parliaments". Modern literature and criticism owe their origins to the coffee houses and clubs of the City and west-end.
London is the most multi-cultural city in the world, and always has been. When el Cid drove the Moors from Spain, he also drove out the Jews, who were accepted with open arms by the City, and are still a strong presence now. I see young men with yarmulkes
every day on my way to work. A mile east is is Brick Lane
, home to thousands of Muslims from Bangladesh and Pakistan: the two communities live side-by-side, largely without trouble. 300 different languages are spoken in London schools.
"London is a roost for every bird." (Benjamin Disraeli, the first Jewish Prime Minister)
London was the founding place of modern commerce - The Bank of England, in the heart of the City, was the first modern national bank. The Royal Mint (under the stewardship of Isaac Newton) produced the first internationally-trusted currency.
“I had been in London innumerable times, and yet till that day I had never noticed one of the worst things about London--the fact that it costs money even to sit down.” (George Orwell)
The people of London are indomitable - whether it's fire, Blitzkreig, IRA bombs or Tube strikes, they unite, survive, and prosper.
"The people of the East End of London - the true cockneys - are a race apart. Most of the men were dockers, all the women cosy. Taken as a whole, they were warm, affectionate, gay, rather reckless, and almost incredibly brave. Sometimes the language was pretty rough, but it was so natural and innocent that it never jarred. One day I came across a small boy crying. I asked him what the matter was, and he said: "They burnt my mother yesterday." Thinking it was in an air-raid, I said: 'Was she badly burned?' He looked up at me and said, through his tears: 'Oh yes. They don't muck about in crematoriums.' I loved them, and I am glad to have been close to them in their hour of supreme trial." (Robert Boothby)]
So, it's no surprise that the IOC and al-Qaeda would choose London. London embodies everything that is great (and admittedly, some of what is terrible) about the Modern world. London has everything that right-thinking people love, and everything that those irrational medievalists hate. How could they not choose London?
"In the days that follow look to our airports, look to our sea ports and look to our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain and around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners, and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential."
"They choose to come to London, as so many have come before, because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail." (Ken Livingstone, Mayour of London)
(Cross-posted from my blog)