London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The only way for one to mind the gap is if one could spot it in the first place. The gap to which I refer is not the one between the train and the platform; it is rather a virtual gap in manners and ways of thinking.
Speakers” corner in London”s Hyde Park has become a major tourist attraction for millions of visitors to the British capital. Every Sunday, speakers from all over the world gather to take part in this interactive experience. They unleash their knowledge and verbal aptitude to offend or defend some matter. The location has been a popular spot for people to express their ideas, thoughts and beliefs including Karl Marx, Lenin and George Orwell. In 1855, the site informally became a point for protest, debate and assembly and ever since has been used by the Chartist movement, the Reform League in 1866/67 and more recently in February 2003 when over 1million demonstrators protested against the war in Iraq.
Some of the speakers are more consistent in their appearances on the corner, and have a loyal audience. The speakers are more "to the point" and more "timely" with regard to the chosen topic of discussion. Last week”s hot topic was Hurricane Katrina, which naturally evolved into a discussion on Bush, Blair and the War in Iraq as the evening unfolded. The Arab-Israeli issue is another popular topic, with many discussions ultimately turning into heated debates. One woman appears on Speaker”s corner every Sunday arguing that every country should have a speaker”s corner so that she would not be subject to seeing foreigners in London!
However, Speakers” corner does not merely address politics. I have actually noticed many squirrels running around, so I am certain that the place is full of nuts. Speakers” Corner is about expressing your mind. It is about expressing thoughts, letting off steam and for even complete lunatics and preachers from all over the place to preach any religion. On one hand, it is where fundamentalist Christians, Muslims and Jews can bash other religions and on the other hand, where one certain preacher can explain his belief that a group of aliens from outer space created the human race.
Words of opposition and discontent are thrown about along side those of approval and support with the hustle and bustle of tourists in the background taking pictures and recording the narrators, by the parks regulars who are there to play football, enjoy the sun or walk their dogs. Such strong discussion displays what has become an art of dialogue. This remains a very impressive feature of London especially that from a tourist”s point of view, it is a place where confrontation occurs because the driver in front did not accelerate fast enough when the traffic lights turned green.
Rather disappointing, however, is that a few hundred meters away from this relaxed non-violent location that is open for discussion and dialogue on the most controversial and mind-spinning issues, is the scene where a small number of confused radicals hijacked the same lines of argument from speakers corner. In their failure to realize and accept this gap, they instead blew it up.