No black detail is too absurd for today's world. And so it happens that the first named victim of the towering inferno in North Kensington is Mohammed Alhajali, a Syrian refugee who arrived as a teenager with his brothers in London four years ago and somehow wound up being housed in a flat in Grenfell Tower. Launching a fund to raise money for his funeral, Kareen el Beyrouty, director of the Syria Solidarity Campaign, declared that "Mohammed Alhajali undertook a dangerous journey to flee war in Syria, only to meet death here in the UK, in his own home. His dream was to be able to go back home one day and rebuild Syria."
Which is apparently a lot safer. His friend and fellow Syrian refugee Abdulaziz Almashi tells the BBC that "Syria is a war zone. For six years I've seen videos of shelling of buildings. I've never seen a building in Syria burn like this." Back in the war zone, Mohammed's mother is planning to undertake her own dangerous journey to London to visit her surviving boys and bid farewell to the son who found freedom and was consumed in the flames: "At least I can see his grave, I can kiss where he's buried."
As anyone who's traveled the Third World or even parts of post-Soviet Eastern Europe knows, it is easier to put up a tall building than to maintain it. Authoritarian regimes like the prestige of skyscrapers, even stubby ones, but you notice around dusk that there are no lights on the upper floors because the elevators no longer work; the landings in the emergency stairwell are used as "temporary" storage space that has inevitably become permanent. Not all of these problems are yet as common in a First World city such as London, but some are: at Grenfell Tower, for example, the only emergency exit was obstructed inter alia by piles of cardboard, a busted space heater and an old mattress. Other problems not quite seemly in a supposedly wealthy metropolis had also accumulated - so there were no sprinklers, and non-working fire alarms, and "cladding" from a recent remodel helped fan the flames and spread the fire and quickly became, for those seeking an issue in a tragedy, the word of the week. Nevertheless, clad or unclad, Grenfell Tower embodies what has happened to London, Paris and other European cities in their transformation from national capitals to "global cities", as Sadiq Khan likes to call his fiefdom. ...