On Wednesday afternoon a car went on to the pavement on Westminster bridge and killed three passersby. A man leapt out and stabbed a policeman. He was shot. No one knew who he was, only that he was dark-skinned and bearded. The police later released the names of those who tragically died in this dreadful incident. The possibly intended victims – members of parliament – were not harmed.
That is how we normally report the people who die by knifing in London each year, usually by those who are enraged or mentally deranged. Yet more are run down by cars. This is sad but not unusual. Some of those involved are Muslims. Of course it seems different when the attack is on an iconic site in central London, but that is merely how it seems.
What made Wednesday different was its instant subjection to an avalanche of supposition and speculation. This was a choice made by the media and political community, a choice to direct the view of a terrible incident entirely in one direction, even when nothing was known of its cause. Because it looked like a terrorist incident – albeit ham-fisted – and it was not initially known if it was a decoy, it was assumed to be such. Without a shred of evidence, and no “claimed responsibility”, the airwaves and press were flooded with assumptions that it was “Isis-inspired”. It was squeezed for every conceivable ounce of sensation and emotion.