LONDON -- They are so obliging, the Brits. On nearly every crosswalk, painted alerts on the streets warn visitors to "look left" or "look right" depending upon whether you've come to a one-way or two-way street. Even with these cautions, we've had a couple of close shaves with cars making turns from the "wrong" direction.
The city is hardy and resilient, if a bit edgy. The 7/7 bombings and 7/21 attempted bombings are still on everyone's minds and lips. When sirens scream and three police cars race down the street, people shoot nervous glances at them. Tourism is way down. The police presence is ostentatious. Wait times at attractions like the London Eye (an enormous Ferris wheel with enclosed glass pods that sits on the banks of the Thames), usually up to an hour in the summer months, are down to five or 10 minutes. The British Museum is busy, but not mobbed. It's easy to find seating at lunchtime in the cafe. When we explain that we're from Washington, D.C., and are therefore used to this, we get rueful and sad nods from Londoners.
Great Britain is struggling to come to grips with the meaning of those attacks, as they were launched not by foreigners but by entirely homegrown jihadists. They were educated, British-born, middle class Muslims, not poor and ignorant recruits from the Middle East. Great Britain is home to more than 1.6 million legal Muslim immigrants (according to the 2001 census) and to an unknown number of illegals and visitors of various kinds. They are very much in evidence in London, particularly in the Knightsbridge neighborhood. Here, the nickname "Londonistan" leaps to life. In outdoor cafes with Arabic writing on the awnings, large numbers of Arab men sit smoking water pipes and sipping Turkish coffee. Arab women, some covered head to toe in burkas, push baby strollers and hold hands with toddlers as they pass. I saw one Muslim lady clad entirely in black, including black gloves and black face veil, revealing only eyes -- and hardly those, as the lady in question wore glasses. It was about 78 degrees and a bright sunny day. She looked like an apparition -- the grim reaper at a garden party.
In other Muslim women, the clash of civilizations is played out in their fashions. They adapt. Over long skirts and long sleeves, they wear a beaded denim skirt, or sport boots under a burka. Harrods was packed with veiled Arab ladies buying designer clothes and expensive make-up -- to wear at home?