Like many Londoners, 7 July 2005 began for me as a normal working day. I drove from my flat in Queens Park to Ealing where I was working as an estate agent. Morning briefing done, our team of sales negotiators 'hit the phones' to drum up business and book appointments. Then people's mobiles started beeping. Other offices started calling in. Something was going on in central London.
Someone turned a radio on and we heard the breaking news: the Tube network had been shut down because of a power outage. I texted my girlfriend (now my wife) to ask her if she was ok. She told me that she had heard a huge bang outside her office, people were panicking and there were helicopters circling overhead. I told her that it was just a power outage and not to worry. As the morning went on I realised how wrong I was. This was no power outage, but a devastating and co-ordinated terrorist attack on my home city - an attack that led to the deaths of 52 innocent people and left hundreds more injured.
My wife's office was on Duke's Place, just behind Tavistock Square. She relates to me her memories of the day: "By mid-morning the area around our office had been sealed off; we couldn't leave. A colleague who managed to get a peek outside reported that the area behind the British Medical Association, near our office, was being used as an emergency medical point; there were stretchers and blood everywhere. The rest of the day was surreal: we were in the thick of the incident zone but had no idea what was going on outside. Some people tried to work; the rest of us were just hitting refresh on the news sites all day. When we were eventually allowed to leave, I started walking home to Queens Park, meeting up with a friend en route so we could navigate together. We both got blisters and had gins when we got to her place. It was the most surreal day."
Ten years on I'm no longer an estate agent but a Head of Religious Studies at a secondary school and I've since recounted my experience of that day to many groups of students. In our GCSE course we have to cover Christian attitudes to forgiveness. The story of Julie Nicholson, the Church of England vicar whose daughter Jenny was killed at Edgware Road, is incredibly powerful. Julie stepped down from her role as a priest, saying she could no longer celebrate Communion or preach forgiveness when she herself couldn't forgive those who had done her wrong. In 2012 I gave an assembly to students about Martine Wright (https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/08/31/martine-wright-77-survivor-makes-her-olympic-debut-seated-volleyball_n_1845850.html) who lost both her legs in the attacks but went on to represent Great Britain at the Paralympics. And there are, of course, many other stories from that day worth telling.
But why do I think it's important for students to learn what happened on 7/7? Teaching in a secondary school, it is difficult to remember that ten years ago is history to our students. What is to me a memorable life event is just another thing to learn for them. And of course they 'think' they know about terrorism and religion because since then there have unfortunately been many other attacks that they've heard about. So I asked one of my students what he thought. Sam in Year 10 said, "In society we have stereotypical views of religion influenced by the media. We don't call these people Muslims. They are terrorists. We need to learn the actual facts." If anything good can come out of that terrible day it is this: that those of us who have the privilege to be teachers allow our students to ask difficult questions. That we as teachers of RS never forget our duty to teach young people the knowledge and skills they need to understand the complex histories, and current manifestations, of religion in the world. And that as Qari Asim MBE says in TrueTube's new film commemorating the attacks: "We must allow young people to air their views... and channel their emotion that they use lawful and legal means to bring about that justice that we all really want to see in the world."
To find out more about the 7/7 film or to access the resource for free, visit www.truetube.co.uk/film/77.