Crowd gath­ers to place bou­quets and hold a can­dle­light vigil to re­mem­ber vic­tims

New Straits Times - - Front Page - ZAHARAH OTH­MAN LON­DON

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 loneat­tacker, iden­ti­fied as Khalid Ma­sood, rammed his rented Hyundai 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 Trafal­gar Square as se­cu­rity per­son­nel and foren­sics be­gan comb­ing the place for ev­i­dence.

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 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.

Mem­bers of Mus­lim groups tak­ing part in a can­dle­light vigil at Trafal­gar Square in West­min­ster, Lon­don, yes­ter­day. (In­set) A bou­quet placed on West­min­ster Bridge.

A po­lice of­fi­cer plac­ing flow­ers in West­min­ster, Lon­don, yes­ter­day.

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