Saturday, July 19, 2014

End of the innocents


When terrorists blew up three Tube trains and a London bus on July 7, 2005, it wasn't long before Londoners started discovering the personal connections they had with the commuters who died that morning.

It was surprising how, in a metropolitan area of 13 million people, so many could have a link to the 52 dead and 700 who were injured. I alone had a school and Scouting connection with Robert Webb, brother of 29-year-old Laura Webb, one of the seven murdered when Mohammad Sidique Khan detonated his rucksack bomb on a Circle Line train near Edgware Road. And my brother used to be served by Ciaran Cassidy, 22, in the Chancery Lane stationery shop where he worked before Germaine Lindsay made him one of 26 victims on the Piccadilly Line train blown up between King's Cross and Russell Square.

The numbers of these atrocities become meaningless until you start attaching names, families, careers and lives to the victims: like Behnaz Mozakka, an Iranian-born biomedical officer at Great Ormond Street children's hospital; like 26-year-old New Zealand tour guide Shelley Mather; like Samantha Badham and her partner of 14 years, Lee Harris, who died alongside each other; like Ojara Ikeagwu, a social worker from Nigeria; James Adams, from Peterborough who worked in insurance; Rachelle Chung For Yuen, an accountant from Mauritius; amateur artist Elizabeth Daplin; former policeman Arthur Frederick, 60, who was also a singer from Montserrat; Helen Jones, an accountant from Lockerbie; Susan Levy, 53, a mother and legal secretary from Essex; Anna Brandt, 41, a cleaner from Poland; Gamze Gunoral, a Turkish student; Atique Sharifi, 24, who came from Afghanistan to work as a pizza delivery driver. The 7/7 list goes on.

And now we have 298 new names, lives, careers and families to consider: 192 Dutch nationals, 44 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, ten British, four Belgian, four German, three Philippino, one Canadian, one New Zealander, one American and two yet to be identified. 80 of them were children. 80 children.

Already the connections have begun. For a country of just 16 million, the odds are good that my many Dutch friends and former colleagues will have a link. And, sadly, I already know of some.

From the 11 nationalities represented by the MH17 flight manifest, tragic stories are already being told. Such as Kaylene Mann, from Queensland, Australia, who lost her brother and sister-in-law in March when MH17's sister plane, MH370 went down, she is now coming to terms with losing her stepdaughter and her husband in Thursday's attack. There is Cor Pan, the Dutchman who took a photograph of the doomed 777 as it was docked at Schiphol's Gate G3, and posted it on Facebook with the jokey caption "If my flight to Malaysia disappears, this is what it looks like". He died with his girlfriend, Neeljte Tol.

Another to think about - Indonesian pharmaceutical worker Yuli Hastini and her Dutch husband, John Paulisen and their two young children, were on their way to pay their respects to Yuli's mother's grave on Java. There are colleagues of Ninik Yuriani, a 56-year-old Indonesian working in an Eindhoven restaurant, now mourning her loss. She was heading home - with her extended family - to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Even politics didn't escape the slaughter: Dutch senator Willem Witteveen was flying on MH17 with his wife and daughter.

Like all true victims of terror, people just going about their business. Travelling for work, travelling for fun, travelling. A large body of the passengers were on their way to the 20th International Aids Society conference in Australia. Amongst them was Dutch HIV/AIDS expert, Joep Lange. "The movement has truly lost a giant", said the IAS, while others said that such a heavy loss to the HIV/AIDS scientific community could put research back years. Along with Lange was Glenn Thomas, a 49-year-old former BBC producer who was a senior press officer for the World Health Organisation, someone I never met, but with whom I share a professional kinship.

The numerical difference between the 7/7 bodycount and that in the skies above Donetsk on Thursday, or for that matter, the Madrid metro system or even the twin towers, is irrelevant. All were innocent victims of someone else's agenda. And, like 9/11, 7/7 and all the other infamous, abbreviated dates in history, the tail of destruction extends far beyond the scarred streets of Lower Manhattan, London's public transport network, or the sunflower fields of rural Ukraine.

© Simon Poulter 2014

At the World Trade Center Memorial in New York, in the footprint of the towers, there are now two 'eternal' pools of water. Around the rims of the pools are the names of those who died on 9/11. Office workers gathering around the water cooler on a Tuesday morning to discuss the Monday night game. People delivering sandwiches to Morgan Stanley bankers. Entire fire companies, police officers and medics who were first on the scene. All, one way or another, going about their daily lives, until someone decided that they were legitimate collateral in a wider conflagration.

So, as we examine the pictures of an airliner blown apart in mid-air and now strewn across the countryside, and we look at images of children's soft toys that made it to the ground in one piece, while their owners were torn to shreds by missile shrapnel, we start to wonder - who is waiting for that phone call? Whose lives will be irrevocably changed by this momentary act of political or military insanity? How will we look at that empty desk chair, or row of vacant seats at a conference?

Perhaps I'm asking the wrong people. Perhaps I should be asking those who sponsor and prosecute these acts. The governments who provide the weapons, training and logistical ability to carry them out, the governments who directly target children and later claim that they "thought" they were blowing up terrorists on an open beach.

Wars are bloody. But they really are best fought by those who can fight back. Not those who were doing nothing more than settling in for an in-flight film, reading a tourist guidebook, or simply enjoying switching off from the real world and all its nastiness for a few hours, high above the world, and the things men do.

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