11 September, 2010


Where were you when...

... the twin towers fell?

Like a lot of people, sitting in an office in central London. Actually quite an isolated office, stuck in a far corner of the building and which I shared with one colleague. I suspect that MegaCorp Inc were rather ashamed of the fact that some rather more important than generally realized midrange business support systems were running on legacy hardware and/or software platforms and preferred to pretend that my team, which specialized in looking after such odds and sods, did not really exist.

Such news as filtered through to us in our shunned eyrie was that something very nasty had gone down somewhere. The Internet had more or less imploded and reaching news sites like the BBC was effectively impossible. Later in the afternoon I popped out to a nearby pub for a breather to find an unusually subdued clientele watching rolling television news.

What makes my experience of that day slightly different from most Londoners', I guess, was the death threat.

A bit of context is needed.

Firstly, in September 2001 I sported a beard. As a Unix-wielding middled-aged IT techie this was almost a religious prescription. In truth said beard was in need of a trim and had grown out to a rather untidy mid-length which I suppose to a distracted person across the street, squinting through the red mist of rage, might have looked vaguely Islamic. Very vaguely Islamic. Very vaguely Islamic indeed. But clearly Islamic enough in the event.

Secondly, I was working — topographically rather than institutionally — in the City of London. Nearby buildings housed international bankers, reinsurers, dealers and other practitioners of the evil arts of high finance.

And so that evening as I was threading my way through the quiet lanes of EC3 towards Cannon Street station a voice came from the other side of the street threatening to kill me. It emanated from a young man in his mid twenties, wearing a sharp business suit. Fortunately his female companion quickly calmed him and both parties to the exchange hurried on in their separate directions.

It was disconcerting at the time but reflecting on it afterwards I could scarcely condemn his momentary verbal aggression. Many international financial firms have offices both in London and New York. Maybe he had spent part of that afternoon in impotent telephone contact with colleagues trapped in the WTC, good friends perhaps or even loved ones, saying a final goodbye before seeing the towers fall on TV.

Oh, and a footnote for any reader of a righteous persuasion who is tempted to use this anecdote as a typical example of White Islamophobia. The distraught young man who lashed out verbally at a mistakenly presumed Muslim was Black. His companion was a young woman of Indian appearance.

My Sikh colleague remembers something similar being shouted at her husband on that evening as he walked home. The turban got the local council estate youths rather to excited.

And I thought they all did mandatory Comparative Religion Studies in London comprehensives!

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