Earlier this week, a terrorist attack took place outside the U.K. parliament, leaving three victims dead and more than a dozen people injured. On a cloudy afternoon in London, a car plowed into multiple pedestrians, moments before the driver stabbed a police officer, killing him. The attacker was then slain by another officer. It was a grisly scene, and a photograph taken moments later whipped up a bad reaction ― a photo of a Muslim woman on Westminster bridge drew an Islamophobic response.
If you didn't see the image, it was taken by photographer Jamie Lorriman. Be warned: It's graphic. The woman in question has requested that media outlets not use the photo, due to the deluge of racist and anti-Islam hatred she's faced, so no image will be presented here.
The photo shows a Muslim woman walking past an injured person lying on the side of Westminster Bridge, her hand up to one side of her face as she looks at her phone. The woman is wearing a hijab, making it clear that she's a member of the Muslim faith, and many right-wing social media accounts tried to portray her expression as indicative of obliviousness, or an unwillingness to sympathize with the victim.
Absent any religious angle, it was a silly and fallacious and cruel reaction. Assessing a person's response to something so shocking, on the basis of micro-expressions in a still photograph, is a risky and unfair business. But doing so in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, in an attempt to falsely paint a bystander to the horrifying event as callous, is egregious and wrong.
As the Guardian reported after the attack, Lorriman said the woman was visibly distraught and horrified, as well as trying to clear the scene of the attack:
The identity of the woman in the photo is not known, and given the hateful reaction it whipped up, that's probably for the best.
However, in a statement released through the advocacy group TellMAMA, which highlights incidents of anti-Muslim sentiment, she explained how the moment unfolded for her. Here are her words, in full:
This was a sad reaction on the back of a horrifying crime — part of an ongoing effort by the anti-Islam and white nationalist right-wing to stigmatize images of Muslims, making the very sight of Muslims in public life appear somehow inherently radical or sinister.
Hopefully, Muslims will someday not be smeared as supportive and sympathetic to violent terrorism on the basis of innocuous photographs. But, clearly, today is not that day.