It’s barely a week since Khalid Masood carried out his deadly attack in London, killing several, including a policeman, before he was finally shot and killed himself. Yet already London has apparently moved on.
It’s not that Londoners don’t care. But throughout history the UK capital has maintained a great resolve to ‘keep calm and carry on’. To many, these five words are iconic with everything that they hold dear to being British – that’s not to say that other countries don’t hold the same, or similar resolve.
The phrase was first brought into use in 1939 when the British were preparing for World War Two, and it has stuck, along with the ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude. And that is what we have seen happen in London over the past week.
In my view the clearest example of that mindset was the continuation of Brexit and the triggering of Article 50, which will lead to the country’s exit from the European Union. This one action on Wednesday – a week-to-the-day since Masood’s murderous act – reflects an important message to these people – we don’t know what you stand for and we don’t really care, our way of life cannot be beaten.
You don’t have to approve of Brexit, or the irreversible announcement made on Wednesday, to see why it was important that the nation carried on with business as normal. As a nation we are not without feeling - people are angry there was an attack at the heart of British democracy. But if anyone thinks they are going to beat Britain by trying to blow us up, shoot us down or run us off the street, then they don’t really understand who they are dealing with.
As a nation we are not without feeling - people are angry there was an attack at the heart of British democracy. But if anyone thinks they are going to beat Britain by trying to blow us up, shoot us down or run us off the street, then they don’t really understand who they are dealing withPeter Harrison
‘At times Brits and Britishness make me cringe’
I am not one of those Britons that believes we are the greatest nation in the world – although we do have our moments – largely in tennis and rugby. There are many aspects of what the world perceives as Britishness that make me cringe, just as much as my sibling’s children do when their parents try to be ‘cool’.
I don’t think I have ever seen Britain more divided as it appears to be right now on a number of major issues. But there seems to be a defiant unity that swept across the nation, aided not least by the phenomenally fast response by British Muslims condemning last week’s attack.
Whatever our wider views, there is one thing I am certain we all agree on, killing us won’t change the way we, or any other country you chose to target, lives.
The Daily Telegraph’s Michael Deacon suggested a far more sinister way to beat that British resolve that leaves so many baffled – stand on the left side of the escalator on the London Underground (we hate that). Jumping in the queue would also probably send our blood to boiling point.
In the past the IRA carried out bomb attacks on the British mainland. They hit Harrods, the Docklands area, as well as in Warrington - where two children were killed - and three years later in Manchester. But ultimately the bombing stopped, and the negotiations began and eventually some form of a peace deal was reached.
No kneejerk reactions
Of course there are people who have been impacted by all these attacks – and last week on Wednesday there was another group of families whose lives were changed forever. But as a nation, most will agree that any kneejerk changes in laws, or a delay in parliamentary business, would be a move in the wrong direction.
The Independent explained why Britain would not make major changes in response to Wednesday’s attack: “The British do not wish to live in a police state as the price of improved security; absurd as it is, that would only represent a victory for the terrorists themselves who wish to destroy our way of life.”
Meanwhile whatever one might think of Brexit and the consequences of Wednesday’s triggering of Article 50 – and whatever we think of the views on the subject plastered across social media, largely by ill-informed people – it is right that this all still continued and was not suspended.
It’s terrible how many people have died either directly – or indirectly – as a result of the existence of extremists in the last week and before. It is terrible that more will undoubtedly fall in the future. But it would be wrong if the world stopped being the richly diverse place that it is, because then the terrorists really have won when we conform to their demands – whatever that might be.
Peter Harrison is a British photojournalist whose career spans three decades, working for print, digital and broadcast media in the UK and the UAE. He's covered a broad spectrum of subjects, from health issues and farming in England, to the refugee crisis in Lebanon and the war in Afghanistan. He is a senior editor with Al Arabiya English and tweets @PhotoPJHarrison.