Editor’s Note: Angela Pupino is a junior at American University and is currently studying abroad in London. The views expressed in this commentary are hers.
Angela Pupino: When I woke up the next day, I was surprised to see headlines describing the city's anger and fear
She was shocked to see the city described as a war zone, and wondered what London they were talking about
Walking home from my 5:00 class in London on Wednesday night, I expected to see a city paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. I expected the normally crowded high street on the way my dorm to be quiet. After all, a terrorist attack had happened only a few hours before and only a mile or so away from my study abroad center near Russell Square.
But I did not see a paralyzed city. The high street was still crowded. I saw all of the regular things: Couples eating together, old men sitting together in pubs, parents swinging a laughing child between their arms, students coming out of coffee shops. The buses that drove past were still full of passengers. And there was still rush-hour traffic. The only visible sign that a terrorist attack, much less the deadliest in the city in 12 years, had occurred was a digital timetable on a bus stop alerting passengers that service to Westminster had been suspended.
To be honest, I was confused by what I saw. I had never been in the same city as a terrorist attack before, much less within walking distance of one. I had spent all afternoon receiving messages and calls from my family and friends back home.
My study abroad program, my university’s study abroad office, and the US State Department – I’m studying abroad on a State Department-administered scholarship – had messaged me requesting an urgent response about my location and physical and mental health. Some students in program had even been at or near Parliament when the attacks occurred. I was anxious and shocked.
I expected the city around me to reflect my own anxiety and shock.
When I woke up the next day, I was surprised to see headlines describing the city’s anger and fear. I was shocked to see the city described as a war zone or as “shaken.” I wondered what London they were talking about. The London I saw Wednesday and Thursday is unshaken. It is brazenly unafraid. It refuses to treat today differently than any other day. It refuses to hate its neighbors. It is “carrying on,” returning to everyday life, with its head held high.
Of course there is anger, fear, trauma and great sadness. Innocent lives were lost and dozens injured. Somewhere in the city, victims still lay in hospital beds. Families, friends, and co-workers are still mourning. Witnesses are still coping with the things they’ve seen. There are people for whom waking up this morning was unbelievably difficult. There will be memorials and funerals. There are questions about national security that need to be asked.
But it strikes me that many of the characterizations of London as a shattered city, many of the angriest posts, and many of the nastiest comments didn’t originate from London at all. Most prominent among these: Donald Trump, Jr.’s tweet – “You have to be kidding me?!” – in response to London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s 2016 comment to The Independent newspaper that terror attacks are “part and parcel” of living in a major city.
Khan’s response to questions about the tweet a day later: “I’ve been doing far more important things for the past 24 hours.” And rightly so.
But heated conversations about what London’s response to the attacks should be are in full swing. Already migration, guns, Muslims, and even Brexit are being pulled into the debate. People all over the world have a lot to say about what happened. I’m not convinced that many Londoners would say the same things.
The people of New York City, Arlington, Virginia and Somerset County, Pennsylvania, knew better than any keyboard warrior how they should respond to September 11. The people of Paris knew better than anyone how they should respond to the attacks in 2015. The people of Brussels knew better than any pundit how they should respond to the attacks a year ago Wednesday. And the people of London know better than anyone else in the world how they should be responding right now.
These places know how they should respond to terror because their communities, and their communities alone, must pick up the pieces. These are the communities that must come together, grieve, and continue living long after the news cameras have left and the comment sections quieted.
It’s true that I’m only an American college student living in London. I was not born and raised here. I am only a temporary guest. I might be oblivious to the places where the city is broken, quivering in fear, or seething with anger. I might be completely misunderstanding the reactions of those around me.
And that’s exactly the point. If you don’t believe me, ask someone else who lives in London. Ask someone who is British. Ask someone who grew up in London. Ask someone who works at Westminster. Ask someone who was there yesterday. These are the people whose perspectives matter most.
The people of London are unshakable. We should all be listening.