London: The calm before the storm?

BY Jason Whitlock • July 26, 2012

Thursday, strolling through the Olympic Park, may have been the most beautiful day of my life. The temperature hovered in the high 80s. Gorgeous women of every stripe and shape sauntered about soaking in the heat, dining, drinking and shopping throughout the elevated, outdoor strip mall.

This city, arguably the most ethnically diverse in the world, was filled with the sounds of people communicating in every conceivable language and the sight of people fashioning every possible style of dress.

This is what heaven must look and sound like.

We think of New York or Miami as melting pots. No. Come here. London is where the world meets, and it is where the constituents of the world co-exist on unassimilated terms. The reality is people fear us, Americans. They visit our cities and try to fit in. They conceal their true feelings. We’re isolated and brutish, the sole powerful inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere.

There is less fear in England, and perhaps that is why I’m scared.

The threat of terrorism never leaves my mind.

The locals promise rain is inevitable here. The idyllic setting we’ve enjoyed in the days leading up to Friday night’s opening ceremony will be disturbed by the reality of London’s relentless summer drizzle, the locals swear.

The world’s tumult is relentless here, too. It is, perhaps, just as inevitable that these Olympic Games will be touched by terrorism. London is not isolated. You can fly from the Middle East to Heathrow Airport in less than five hours. London’s great strength, its diversity, makes it easy for extremists to hide in the open.

The Olympic Games are arguably the world’s largest platform. The attempts to avoid the politicization of the Olympics are laughable at this point. IOC president Jacques Rogge’s decision to avoid recognizing at Friday’s opening ceremony the Israeli athletes taken hostage and murdered during the 1972 Olympics in Munich seems bizarre and childish. I do not believe his decision is based in cowardice. It’s rooted in denial. Rogge is addressing a problem by pretending the problem isn’t there. He would like to believe that 1972 was an aberration, a tragedy of unpreparedness rather than geography.

There is some truth to that contention. The eight Palestinian terrorists simply climbed a chain-link fence to get to the Israeli athletes. Plus, in the 40 years since the attack, there have been plenty of questions raised about the way the German government handled security in general and the security of the Israeli team in particular. As a way to distance itself from Hitler and the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Germany chose to have lax security in 1972.

But no way should the IOC do anything to distance itself from the 1972 Israeli victims. Their families and their memories should be front and center at every Olympics. They should serve as a reminder of why we play these games. They’re an attempt to promote tolerance and understanding across racial, ethnic and religious lines.

Europe, given its central location to global power, is ground zero for this grand experiment. It’s not a coincidence that Europe — Munich — is where the worst incident of Olympic terrorism occurred.

Jacques Rogge doesn’t grasp that learning from and recognizing the same history over and over again is the best way to stop history from repeating itself.

That is not to suggest England is unprepared. The military and police presence in London is unprecedented. There are more than 17,000 troops deployed throughout the city and plans call for another 7,000 private security guards during the games. I visited London three weeks ago and delighted in the fact that the police did not carry guns. Now, this week upon my return, many police officers are carrying machine guns. The city feels occupied. It does not feel safe.

Fear grips me every time I descend down into the Tube, London’s subway system. The Tube is hot and cramped and extremely busy. It doesn’t appear to be very secure. A suicide bomber killed six people in Bulgaria nearly two weeks ago. There are reports the attack was a trial run for more attacks in London during the Olympics. The Tube seems the most vulnerable.

The idyllic Olympic Park would be another target.

These are the third Olympic Games I’ve covered, the first since 9/11. I never experienced much fear in Atlanta or Japan, even after the bombing that took place in Atlanta. Despite the beautiful scene I enjoyed Thursday, the world seems much more hostile and tense now. Thursday felt like the quiet before the rain.