Sadly, the sort of deadly attack that hit London yesterday has become an all-too familiar occurrence throughout Europe in the past few years, from Paris to Nice and Berlin to Brussels — and even came one year to the day after bombings in the latter city killed 35 people. In the wake of some of these incidents, many public gathering sites, including cinemas, opted to or were urged to close while suspects were still on the loose and authorities and communities struggled to deal with a new reality.
Today, while the UK mourned the victims, the British adage “Keep calm and carry on” rang truer than ever as, by most accounts, it appeared to be business as usual in the capital city. That’s in stark contrast to the aftermath of the July 7, 2005 London terrorist attacks that killed 52 people — and when this wasn’t a seemingly every-day headline.
Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday that Parliament would be open as normal today, and it was. A minute of silence was observed at Whitehall at 9:33 AM local time to honor the victims. Even Westminster Bridge was reopened to traffic within less than 24 hours. Roads were cleared and public transportation was as normal less than a day after a man killed three people and injured more than 40 others. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack that has left several people in critical condition as of Thursday morning.
As for the moviehouses, there were no closures. Said one exhibitor: “Definitely absolutely not. Not even at the height of the IRA troubles was a cinema ever closed.” Box office seemed undented, with current No. 1 film Beauty and the Beast doing the same business on Wednesday as it had the previous day.
One distributor believes Londoners are unlikely to cower indoors after such an atrocity, saying, “Cinema might provide a welcome form of escape from reality this weekend.” (We felt a similar sentiment in Paris in November 2015.)
But, as each city or town has been faced with this new reality, adjustments continue. The 7/7 attacks, for example, caused chaos across multiple sites in London less than four years after 9/11, and brought a much larger part of the capital to a standstill. We remember the sounds of ambulance sirens that permeated the London streets all day and into the evening, and helicopters hovered above most major parts of the vast city. But as the dust began to settle, you could hear a pin drop in local pubs, with citizens mourning and frankly still shocked at what had just occurred. It didn’t seem real.
Fast-forward 12 years and the sad reality is we are living in an age where expecting and preventing terrorist attacks has become the new norm. While Wednesday’s events certainly have shaken the British capital, the sense of bewilderment doesn’t feel as strong as it once did. Security chiefs in the UK have been preparing for such an event since 2005, amping up training even further after the horrifying scenes in such places as Mumbai, Paris, Nice and Brussels. Indeed, many of those we spoke to in London during the past day have echoed just that sentiment:It was always going to happen — it was just a question of when.
Social media today was quick to blast Fox News contributor Walid Phares, who tweeted, “One man can shut down a city”:
BBC political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg, who was reporting from Westminster when the attack happened, said that statement was “completely wrong” and only a “small area” of the city was closed off.
Metin Huseyin, whose Twitter account describes him as a TV and film director, mocked the Fox contributor’s statement by showing an updated picture of London’s Underground service.
One of the oft-repeated sentiments of London Mayor Sadiq Khan in the wake of the Brexit vote has been that London is “open for business.” The UK-born mayor, who is of Pakistani descent, told a crowd assembled in Trafalgar Square for an Oscar night screening of Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, “As I look around Trafalgar Square, I am proud — and you should be proud, too, because here today we have men and women, old and young, rich and poor, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists … we have people from all around the world, and the key message we send to the world is London is open.”
In a video statement Wednesday night, he said: “I want to reassure all Londoners and all our visitors not to be alarmed. Our city remains one of the safest in the world. London is the greatest city in the world, and we stand together in the face of those who seek to harm us and destroy our way of life. We always have and always will. Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism.”
Conversely, former UKIP leader and Brexiteer Nigel Farage used the attack to justify President Donald Trump’s travel ban which seeks to prohibit people from some Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. On Fox News he said, “Frankly, if you open your door to uncontrolled immigration from Middle Eastern countries, you are inviting in terrorism.” The attacker on Wednesday was confirmed to have been born in the UK.
International politicians and the Royal Family have expressed their sentiments since the attack, with former U.S. President Barack Obama tweeting:
The Guardian reported that Russia President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to May. In a statement released by the Kremlin, he said: “Terrorist attacks are becoming increasingly cunning and cynical. It is obvious that all members of the international community should join forces to stand up against the terrorist threat.”
The Queen for her part shared her “deepest sympathy” with those affected by the “awful violence.”
The Duchess of Cambridge also sent “thoughts and prayers to all those sadly affected by yesterday’s terrible attack in Westminster. We will be thinking of all the families, as we discuss the important issues we’re here to talk about.”
A candlelight vigil was held tonight in London’s Trafalgar Square to remember the victims. Earlier in the day, in Antwerp, Belgium, a man was held on suspicion of driving at a crowd. The French national of North African origin drove at a high speed in one of the city’s main shopping centers before his car was intercepted. There were no reports of injuries.