On March 22, U.K. native Khalid Masood drove a car into pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge and then continued driving onto the grounds of Parliament before being shot dead by law enforcement. The attack resulted in five casualties — including a British police officer and an American tourist — and over 50 injuries. While right now the alleged assailant’s motive does seem to be religious extremism, no formal association with ISIS has been found despite the terrorist group’s claim of responsibility for the attack.
As an American student in London, I applaud the response to the attack from my temporary city and country of residence. Unfortunately, I doubt my own country’s ability to handle this kind of event with an equal amount of restraint.
Many government leaders offered condolences to the victims in response, as they should, and organizations — some of them owned by Muslims — across London have held memorials or raised money for expenses. What I have not witnessed in the aftermath to this heinous crime, however, are calls to close the border to refugees, to increase funding for the Ministry of Defence or to stage a counterattack on a Syrian village. There have been no immediate reports of Islamophobia in the British capital from the press, and Westminster was bustling with businesspeople and tourists the next day. Even the U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson acted courteously following the incident in London, condemning the attack while recognizing the support of Muslim allies worldwide. Perhaps there is no 9/11 in the UK’s past, but they have also experienced bombings and really, in the fight against terrorism, all the West is on the same side.
U.S. President Donald Trump offered condolences to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May following the attack, albeit in a notably less-sentimental tweet compared to former President Barack Obama’s. His son, on the other hand, wasted no time in trying to blame the incident on London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan. By tweeting an outdated quote taken out of context, Donald Trump, Jr. exploited the fears of Americans to benefit the Trump administration’s agenda. A Trump administration security aid later went on TV and used the attack to justify the President’s travel bans, even though the suspected perpetrator was British-born.
I watched as an American Fox News correspondent said one man had shut down this city, a claim mocked online and easily disproved by my own eyes. Another shameful American reaction was made by far-right accounts on Twitter that spread a photo of the chaos on Westminster Bridge. The picture suggested a woman in a hijab who was standing by did nothing to help. Both the photographer and the pictured woman have since made statements asserting that these claims are outrageous and false.
But the American people and the U.S. government don’t always turn to sensationalism and xenophobia when a terrorist attack occurs.
I also remembered the bombing in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood last year, just steps away from NYU. Minutes after the explosion, before anything was known, then-candidate Trump talked about the attack during a rally and said the country had to “get tough.” Contrastingly, then-president Obama didn’t mention terrorism in his statement to the press nor speculate about the bomber’s intentions without adequate evidence, which the New York Post illustrated in its article. Mayor Bill Blasio also stated that the bombing was not terroristic in nature, as reported by DNAinfo. I was proud of the responses from both New York City and the White House to the Chelsea bombing. I now shudder to think of what would have happened if the attack in London had instead unfolded in Washington, D.C.
Email Akshay Prabhushankar at [email protected]