WHEN British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the London terror attack on Wednesday and defiantly urged Londoners to go about their day as normal, that was what happened. Although, it did take a while for normalcy to return.
London mayor Sadiq Khan had stressed that Londoners would not cower after the incident, and they did not.
When I left for Westminster yesterday, the day after a lone- attacker, identified as Khalid Masood, rammed his rented Hyun-dai into a crowd on Westminster Bridge, killing four people and critically injuring a handful of others before running off to fatally stab a policeman at an entrance of the Palace of Westminster, I had expected the station nearest to the incident area to be closed and the atmosphere to be tense. However, that was not the case.
The normally packed tourist spot had to be closed to traffic from as far as the road from Tra-falgar Square as security personnel and forensics began combing the place for evidence.
Members of Muslim groups taking part of candlelight vigil at Trafalgar Square in Westminster, London, yesterday
Tourists were forced to take a longer route and visit other tourist spots in the vicinity, although some took pictures with the horse guards at the Royal House Guards Parade.
Some chatted to police outside 10 Downing Street — the prime minister’s residence and office. There were a few children, some in strollers, enjoying a less busy pavement, which was usually packed. Those working in the area went on with their business as usual.
The police presence was not more than it would have been during a regular street demonstration. The armed officers, standing behind a thin blue line, looked relaxed but vigilant as they dealt with journalists, photographers and social media ‘reporters’ from around the world.
Other than the drone of helicopters above and the occasional police siren, everything seemed normal as normal would be under these circumstances.
Photographers closer to the scene, behind another thin blue line, had to be content with taking pictures of policemen standing guard.
Journalists interviewed each other or, once in a while, chased after someone they considered worth a quote.
Minus the merriment that is usually a feature of demonstrations here, the air was a touch subdued, especially with the grim reminders of flags flying at half mast over Westminster.
On the pavement were flower bouquets and a smiling picture of PC Keith Palmer, the officer who died of stab wounds within the premises where he stood guard and almost always took pictures with passing tourists.
When Westminster Bridge was opened to the public again in the afternoon, although the entrance into Westminster was closed, the media started flocking to the site of the attack.
A police officer placing flowers in Westminster, London, yesterday
A small mound of flower bouquets was forming on the pavement, and television journalist were doing their “standuppers”.
Normalcy took the form of people taking selfies as others queued patiently to place their bouquets.
Police officers came in groups and placed their tributes for a colleague who had fallen in the line of duty. It was a touching and heartbreaking moment.
Not too far away, at the New Scotland Yard Headquarters, was another similar scene.
Earlier in the morning, there was a solemn ceremony when the officers gathered to pay respects to the late PC Palmer.
By sundown, as more people left their office with bouquets of flowers, many were heading towards Trafalgar Square, where a candlelit vigil was taking place.
People of different nationalities and religious backgrounds, touched by the incident, had travelled from far and wide to show solidarity; lighting candles or mingling with strangers who later became their friends.
What was obvious was the presence of Muslim groups with banners, which spoke loud and clear that Islam and Muslims had nothing to do with the attacks.
A young man from AlIslam organisation said he had to be there to show that Islam had nothing
to do with extremism or terrorism.
Yazmin from Muslim Aid said it was important for Muslims here to be part of the big community.
Joining the vigil at Trafalgar Square was Rabbi Hershel Gluck OBE, who said, yes, this was normal, referring to the gathering that had brought people of various faiths together.
“What had happened was terrible, but it brought all of us together to show that, despite this act of hatred, we show what is normal for people in London.
“And that is that people from various communities and religious background live and work together in harmony.
“What was done was not done in the name of Islam, but by people who were sadly disaffected, who feel that the way forward is murder and mayhem.
“The people here today came to say ‘no’, this isn’t what our community is about.”
I left the place with the wise words of the former envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was held hostage by Islamic fundamentalists in Beirut for five years, ringing in my ears.
After the 2005 bombing incidents, I had experienced a spate of racial abuses.
He said, that was normal, too, especially with people who were ignorant. But, Londoners were normally a tolerant lot.
That was evident indeed yesterday.