Friday, July 08, 2005


There have been a number of responses in the media to the attacks in London, quite rightly condemning whoever carried then out.

I do, however, have a problem with the language used Particularly the use of the word "cowardly". Just about every terrorist attack is accused of being "cowardly". Now there are a number of words to describe the bombings, such as "obscene"; "evil" and "murderous", that I would go along with.

But "cowardly"? These are people who travelled through central London carrying powerful explosives; people who constructed bombs in their homes and slept in the same building; who may even have been suicide bombers. And who, at the very least, were willing to accept life in a prison if they had been caught. I wouldn't have the courage to do that. In fact I'd call it brave.

That's not necessarily a compliment, by the way.

An American serial killer, operating in a state which has the death penalty, is brave. Braver than I would be.

A man picking a fight in a bar, accusing a slightly bigger man of spilling his pint, is braver than I would be.

A football hooligan, arranging a rendezvous with a rival gang of football hooligans, where he might get glassed or worse, is braver than I would be.

There was a story recently about kids staying on railway tracks until the very last minute before avoiding a train, and capturing the moment on video phones. That's braver than I would be.

It doesn't mean that the people involved aren't scum, though. Or that physical bravery is necessarily a positive thing.

In fact, many of our great thinkers, or carers, or celebrities, might be quite scared of physical contact. I can't imagine Jane Austen, or EM Forster, or Stephen Fry, doing well in a fight. I just don't know why we set so much store by being brave or cowardly. As bravery can be a force for good or evil, so can ability in maths, if it is used to manufacure an atomic bomb, or discover a new type of energy. And we don't judge people on that account, do we?