A terror attack carried out by a man identified as Khalid Masood caused the deaths of four individuals and left over fifty injured as he ploughed down pedestrians along Westminster Bridge. He was then shot and killed outside the Palwace by a close protection officer of Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon.
To many, this horrific attack stood for fundamental opposition to so-called ‘Western values’ connected to a string of similar incidents that have occurred across European cities in recent years. The attack’s coinciding with the anniversary of the Brussels bombings, together with the attacker’s extremist beliefs seemed to inextricably link the Westminster attack with that of Islamic State’s ideology. However, this incident was proven to be the act of a rogue individual.
Inevitably, the attacker’s self-proclaimed identity as a Muslim led to a degree of backlash against Muslims and immigration populations. Tommy Robinson for instance, partially reformed English Defence League leader and current spokesperson for Pegida UK, used the events to emphasise the perceived threat posed to society by Islam. These resentments were echoed by others of a similar persuasion, although such reactions appear to have thankfully been confined to a small, admittedly outspoken, inority on the online sphere.
Theresa May’s failure to attend the Treaty of Rome anniversary may have further reflected badly on the UK, particularly after the solidarity shown for London by other current members of the European Union in the wake of the attack. May’s decision not to attend, whilst seemingly reasonable pre-attack in the light of attempting to sever ties with the EU, may have appeared ungracious in its wake. The Treaty represents one of the pillars of the European Union, and so May’s original decision seems justified if the UK wishes to dissociate itself from this body. However after the Westminster attacks, and considering the Treaty’s value as a display of European solidarity the original motivations of peace maintenance it may have shown more tact to send some British representation as a token gesture.
Regardless of this, reactions at home were of overwhelming support and empathy for the victims of the attack. The effect of the dissemination of certain Islamophobic or xenophobic ‘alt-right’ views, can however be felt. For instance, a Muslim group raised £18, 000 in support of the victims and their families; the same group issued a statement that “the British Muslim community stands with the community”. Whilst the sentiment is obviously one of solidarity, one must however question if such reactions, of which there have been many as radical acts of terror are perpetuated, are not in part motivated by pressure to reassure the public that Muslims are not their enemy.
Those who commit or support such attacks are hoping for the exact reaction that some fearfully anticipate: they hope to divide through terror, that Western societies will collapse from internal divisions, that they will isolate Muslims; which they must believe will further their agenda. The reaction in London and across Britain has indeed been powerful, but in a potently defiant fashion: despite having suffered devastating losses, the people persist with hope. The next day, as Londoners head back to work and as the hashtag #WeAreNotAfraid trends on Twitter, the city shows its archetypal stiff upper lip. Though the horror of the Westminster attacks has left the country shaken, many believe it has also left it stronger. Such hopes were particularly well voiced in a message left in some tube station, later proved to be ‘fake’ but which nonetheless reflects true sentiments for the thousands sharing it: “All terrorists are politely reminded that this is London, and whatever you do to us, we will drink tea and jolly well carry on. Thank you.”