The Faceless City

When I left London for Japan some years ago, one of the many reasons was that London was becoming a disharmonious place where it was increasingly difficult and dangerous to live in a sincere and honest way. It was also becoming an unpredictable place where it was hard to know what those around you were thinking or were being programmed to think by their culture, biology, or simply their confusion at being in London.

To survive and function it was increasingly necessary to be forever on one’s guard and second-guessing everyone around you so as not to upset anyone unduly or be caught unawares. I guess this is what they mean by the Orwellian phrase, "Diversity is Our Strength," raising the question of just who exactly is meant by "our."

One of the characteristics of London is that its peculiar mix of welfare, public transport, urban density, and the constant flux of slumification vs. gentrification makes it difficult for people of different backgrounds to get out of each other’s faces and self-segregate: the kaleidoscope is always turning. This means that Londoners walk around in a constant state of fear, hatred, and denial of each other, with constant CCTV surveillance backed up by strict anti-gun, anti-knife, and anti-freedom-of-expression laws struggling to keep a lid on things.

A recent acid attack has highlighted the nature of London perfectly. Going by the photograph of her before the attack, the unfortunate victim, 20-year-old Naomi Oni was a self-confident, outgoing sort of girl, who, presumably inspired by the videos of Beyonce or Rihanna, liked to strut her stuff. The fact that she also worked at sexy lingerie shop Victoria’s Secret helps to paint more of a picture: a sex-in-the-city girl-on-the-town, confident in sending out the usual sexual signals in the over-sexed-up metropolis; in many respects a typical London girl.

But then her attacker was also an equally typical Londoner – a mystery Muslim in the traditional black-bin-bag-like nijab that entirely and, conveniently in this case, obscured her face. Although the reason for the attack as yet remains unknown, the circumstances point to a religious motive and a culture clash: Mecca finding it hard to tolerate Babylon in the streets of England.

The essence of the city – of any city and of Tokyo where I now live – is a degree of facelessness, something that is usually achieved by the adoption of a mild poker face, a sour look, or the avoidance of eye contact as people go about their business. But in a city like London where diversity is turbo-charged and rammed into everyone’s face 24-7 facelessness is acheived by more extreme methods – the facelessness of the nijab, the facelessness of the face dissolved in acid.