The afternoon of Wednesday 22 March 2017 will not be easily forgotten in the UK. On this day, devastating events unfolded in London, and for many, these were upsetting, shocking and just a little too close to home. Every television channel and news outlet was sharing the details, and so The Saint looked at what occurred and the response of St Andrews students.
At around 2:40 pm, a man, later identified as a 52-year-old male Briton, Khalid Masood, ran his car into pedestrians on the pavement of Westminster bridge, causing three fatalities, and injuring at least 50 others of around 12 different nationalities, including a group of French students. Mr Masood proceeded to crash this hired car into the perimeter railing at Palace Yard, before attempting to enter the Palace of Westminster on foot. He then produced a knife, stabbing and killing PC Keith Palmer. He was later shot dead by another armed officer.
The BBC believe that the entire incident lasted approximately 82 seconds.
Immediately, emergency services swarmed the Westminster area in order to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible to the attack. The Houses of Parliament, along with other major attractions in the capital’s centre, such as the London Eye, were subject to a temporary lockdown in the hours directly following.
News channels and social media immediately published numerous and varying accounts of the events, reporting that police had allegedly stated that they believed the attack to be of a terrorist nature, but that a lengthy and ongoing investigation would ensue.
The resulting concern was not limited to London locals, so many used Facebook to mark themselves safe and connect with friends and family across the globe.
Third-year student Jordan Rycraft was revising in St Andrews at the time, but has many relations and friends living, working and studying in the capital. He told The Saint that he was “initially very shocked as something like this hasn’t happened in London for a long time, although one could perhaps expect it due to similar events in Europe.”
However, Mr Rycraft admitted that his uncertainty over whether the UK should have been more prepared for such an event has since been reaffirmed. He said, “I no longer have the question ‘how did we miss this?,’ as the nature of the attacks were such that it would be very hard to crack down on or prevent this type of attack happening.
We rarely see anything on a large scale and I mainly believe this certain attack slipped under the radar due to the simplicity of the operation. How does one prepare to stop a random person in a car?”
Martha Smart, a second-year international relations student, agreed that the incident was “relatively small,” and worries, without diminishing the level of tragedy for all involved, that media coverage was over-dramatic and could in fact be unhelpful in the longer run.
“All I could think about were the consequences of not just the event but also the way it was reported, which I immediately felt was over the top,” Ms Smart told The Saint. “In my opinion, the media and the way it has so extravagantly reported this has played a large part in continuing a vague, dangerous, unhelpful and entirely problematic rhetoric of ‘terrorism,’ which I believe is actually a privileged guise aimed at shifting the blame for people feeling growing discontent in our society towards an unidentifiable ‘other.’”
Ms Smart went on to mention that she was “shocked and saddened” at how many British Muslims felt the need to speak out and defend themselves in the days following. “I think people, especially students, need to keep a close and curious eye on how things in our society are portrayed and why,” she said.
“We need to be aware of history and be critical of labels which have the ability to emancipate some whilst criminalising others. Categorising a whole lot of different people and different situations under the same umbrella is to be blind and uncritical.”
Mr Rycraft admitted that the level of media coverage he witnessed was “to be expected due to the location and status of the police officer killed.” Yet he, too, was a little disconcerted by how quickly the media labelled the events as an act of terrorism, saying, “I think some care has to be taken when considering how media coverage on a large scale could potentially lead to an increase in extremism cases.”
While the lives lost on 22 March are solemnly grieved, and the bravery and efficiency of all involved in the response operations gratefully commended in events across the country and among online communities, London is determined to maintain an internationally recognised image of strength and solidarity.
Many people chose to use social media profile pictures to depict this message, with an image of a tube station sign reading “we are not afraid,” or post similar images on their Facebook timelines.
Georgina Allan, a third-year student who visited the capital the day after the Westminster attack for her Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award presentation at St James’ Palace, recalled that while there were “definitely more armed police officers around the Palace, and our exit from the Palace was staggered,” the atmosphere in the city appeared otherwise “similar to normal.”
Ms Allan additionally felt as though the city was no less comfortable a place to be despite the events of the previous day, saying, “I did feel a little more nervous going in [to London] than usual and took taxis rather than the tube, but when I was actually in London I felt fine.”
The resonating message is clear. London was a victim, but this incident was not by any means unique. Life must and will continue, and it is important that the UK move forward through positive methods as opposed to ones of scaremongering and fear. Ms Smart suggested that it is “always important to consider power, who has it, and who it affects.”