My friend Hassan from Yorkshire keeps in touch about music as diverse as Nina Simone and Dolly Parton. I know him via the e-mail as a writer and photographer and thinker.
I wrote about him in 2012.
The other day Hassan reminded me of the eighth anniversary of the horrific bombings in the London transport system on July 7, 2005. My wife and I were driving across France to re-join the Tour that day when I deciphered the news from French radio. Fifty-two people died all over London, including on the No. 30 bus line. We have taken that double-decker, with a jolly Jamaican driver, back to town after a great dinner at my relatives’ flat.
What I did not know was that in 2005 Hassan wrote a letter which the Guardian printed on July 14 – and that a priest in Cornwall responded. Their words still ring.
A letter to the terrorists
Hassan, a young Muslim born and raised in Yorkshire, offers a heartfelt response to last week's attacks on London
Friday July 15, 2005
Dear dead or alive terrorists (As Salaam Alaikum doesn't apply to you),
Just wanted you to know I'm a young Muslim and I heard about you on the news again today. We all did. It's so painful to know I've grown up so close to the same Leeds streets as you. I was born in the same hospital as one of you, St Luke's, but we took different routes in life. Somehow ... life will go on. And in my heart, I really believe that one day London and all of us will be stronger. But never because of you and what you have done.
I can confirm that since that morning of Thursday July 7, you have not saved one single Muslim's life in your phoney war for freedom. A war which targets innocent people whose biggest crime was to have a job to go to on a Thursday morning. With so many people committed to peacefully fighting hatred against Muslims all over the world, why bring us more suffering by killing innocent people in London? You are not martyrs for Islam. You don't even represent your own hard-working mums and dads. I'm glad to know that so many Muslims across this country will march against you. And I pray that millions more people, millions and millions, across the entire world, will march against you and your evil. Because you are not now, and never will be, Muslims to me. You're confused, over-sized boys, who will never know the magnitude of what you have done to so many innocent people, people that you never even knew.
I was 15 when I first visited London alone. I doubt you've ever seen the wonderful sights I've seen there over the years. I'm not even talking about the guided tour of Women's Achievements in Science at the Science Museum, or reading the actual words of real freedom fighters in the British Library. I'm talking about the simple joy of sitting upstairs at the front of a double-decker London bus, and gliding effortlessly back and forth over the bridges of the River Thames. It takes less than a minute to do this by bus, but the journey to success takes several generations for some people. And some of us still haven't quite made it, but we will. I will.
In April of this year, I took a business student from Afghanistan to visit London. Sitting on a Northern Line tube train my jaw suddenly dropped when Ian Brown, the singer from The Stone Roses, came and sat opposite us. Ian and I exchanged nods and I went and sat next to him and told him how much I respected his music. We talked on the platform, swapped emails, and Ian embraced us and said As Salaam Alaikum (Peace Be Unto You), before we even said it to him. I keep playing I Am The Resurrection by The Stone Roses. I used to cheer during the chorus, now it brings me to tears.
Last Thursday morning July 7, I had an appointment at the Royal London Homeopathic hospital in Great Ormond Street. It's very close to Tavistock Square and Russell Square tube station. A short time before I was to travel, the doctor cancelled my appointment against my wishes. A lot of Londoners are silently repeating to themselves again and again that they might be dead now, were it not for whatever small miracle it was that stopped them from getting on to a bus or tube train with you last Thursday morning. I was so overjoyed to have met a northern soul like Ian Brown on the tube train one morning in April. I'm so sorry that so many people met your sorry selves one morning in July, and for the memories you have resurrected within me.
On May 11 2005, I stood at a memorial service for 56 people who were killed in the Bradford City fire 20 years before. Football was my whole life back then. At the memorial service for that terrible, terrible tragedy, I suddenly realised for the first time that what I saw happen in less than five minutes on May 11 1985, had destroyed my ambitions of wanting to become the greatest Muslim footballer the world has ever seen. I wonder just how many young Muslims will one day look back on their lives and think that what you tried to do in their name last Thursday morning stopped them from achieving their dreams?
When I visit London now I go to an Aston Martin dealer and stare through the window at my gleaming ambition. I've never been that materialistic, but I need something, some kind of tool to improve my self-esteem. A lot of young Muslims are going to need something to keep them going through all this now, because of what you've done. In my own way, I hope they just innocently get on a London bus and sit upstairs at the front with me. And dream. Just dream ... that hundreds and hundreds more miracles, meant that it all never happened last Thursday.
I don't care where you've been or what you plan to do ...
I am the resurrection and I am the life
I couldn't ever bring myself to hate you as I'd like
(from I Am The Resurrection by The Stone Roses)
Hassan [his only name] Bradford, July 14 2005
Sharing an amazing letter:
From: Father Doug Robins
Sent: Sunday, July 17, 2005 11:32 PM
God moves in a mysterious way...
I had prepared a sermon for the Sunday morning service here at Gerrans, in Cornwall, although I wasn't too happy with it. Finding myself with a few minutes on hand before the service this morning I decided to check my e mails. There was just one. A friend had sent me a copy of Hassan's letter in last Friday's Guardian addressed to the 'dead or alive terrorists'. I was very moved by it and immediately decided (was prompted) to dump my sermon and read the letter. In fact I had difficulty in controlling my emotions while reading it. The members of my congregation, probably categorised as mainly right of centre, were visibly moved by what Hassan had written. One of our visitors told me as he was leaving that before hearing the letter he would just have said that he came from Yorkshire, but after hearing it he felt he needed to say he lived in the same street as one of the bombers. I thank God for Hassan and for what he wrote and your newspaper for printing it.
Father Doug Robins.
Hassan is still writing and growing and living. He says his northern identity from Yorkshire and his origins “are a fundamental part of my being.” GV.
"The day after my 80th birthday, which overflowed with good wishes, surprises and Covid-safe celebrations, I awoke feeling fulfilled and thinking that whatever happens going forward, I’m OK with it. My life has been rewarding, my bucket list is empty, my family is thriving, and if everything ends tomorrow, so be it.
"Not that I expect to do anything to hasten my demise. I will continue to exercise regularly, eat healthfully and strive to minimize stress. But I’m also now taking stock of the many common hallmarks of aging and deciding what I need to reconsider."
--Jane E. Brody, my pal in the NYT newsroom, oh, a few years back, in the Personal Health column, Sept. 13, 2021.
"People have said to me, ‘You’re fully vaccinated. Why are you being so careful?’” said Dr. Robert M. Wachter, professor and chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “I’m still in the camp of I don’t want to get Covid. I don’t want to get a breakthrough infection.”
---Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, Aug. 16, 2021.