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"Everything got quite frightening" - terror witness

REMEMBRANCE: Westminster Bridge, a scene of carnage, lined with candles in honour of the dead

I SPENT Wednesday morning with my course mates, all Journalism MA students from the University of Sheffield, touring Parliament.

We went to get lunch, collecting McDonald's Monopoly stickers like we would have done on any normal day.

Thinking we were late, we power-walked back to Portcullis House where we were due to listen to speeches from various journalists. We realised we were actually early and found a small refreshments area with tables on the front corner of Portcullis House. The room had huge windows with an amazing view of Westminster Bridge and Big Ben. I grabbed my coffee and went to look out of the window.

A few moments later, we heard a distant voice say, "Someone's been shot." We were confused, not knowing where, or when, or even what the person was talking about.

As I looked down again onto the street, I noticed a group of school children crying near the start of the bridge. Any confusion I felt then amplified massively, as my eyes focused on what looked like a dead body on the pavement.


RESPONSE: A policeman points a gun at terrorist Khalid Masood

The next few moments were more confusing than scary. A security guard ran into the room and shouted at me, "Move away from the window, you could get shot!" 

At this point I was only with two other friends, and we were told to go to the back of the building and away from any windows. We made our way down a corridor where the rest of our course mates were waiting, confused as we were.

People were shouting that we needed to get inside a room, and we ended-up in one at the back of the building. We were told to turn our phones on silent before our lecturer, amazingly quickly, managed to find out that everyone from our group was safe. We were in that room for maybe 45 long minutes, before being moved to a different part of the building.

Then, everything got quite frightening. When leaving one part of the building and moving to another, we walked past armed police in front of the gates of the building. They were shouting and asking the people ushering us in why we were moving so slowly. People started panicking and then someone shouted that once we were in the room, we needed to get inside rooms (MPs’ offices) and lock the doors. There was a mad rush - myself and maybe up-to 100 people didn't get in any of the rooms. We were assured that we were in the safest place possible.


TRIBUTES: Mourners lay flowers before the Palace of Westminster

We were in this part of the building for around five hours. It was the most surreal, bizarre experience. We were invited to sit in an MP's office, and watched reports on the TV telling us Westminster was on lockdown and that three people had been killed. I soon realised the body I had seen from the window, just one floor below and around 30 metres away, was the attacker. 

I think as journalist students, we all found it fascinating to watch, especially seeing the strength of journalists who were going about their work without seeming at all panicked or stressed. But being stuck in a building for five hours, knowing people had just been murdered right outside, was obviously extremely saddening. It's hard to describe the atmosphere.

From the moment I heard the words "terrorist attack”, I felt physically sick, as this added a whole new dimension to the day. When your surname is Khan and you're a bit brown, you know that this is a very worrying sign for you on more than one level. 

A few days after the Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015, I moved to Toulouse as part of my year abroad. Seeing and feeling the Islamophobia of so many French people, I felt anxious for my Muslim brothers and sisters, my Pakistani family and my school friends.

In a political climate like the one we currently live in, there is nothing more terrifying than these kind of attacks - not forgetting their aftermath, which can sometimes be equally scary.
 

RALLY: People taking part in a protest against Khalid Masood's actions, #NotInMyName

On that day in Westminster, I heard so many of my friends say "I wish the attacker was white." 

They wished, like I did, that no black or brown or Muslim person would be blamed for the atrocious and disgusting actions of one insane man.

Now, in a world of Trump and Brexit and maybe soon Le Pen too, it is more terrifying than ever. Muslims sit on the tube and get glared at by people who see them as extreme, as terrorists, as dangerous. We get interrogated in airports, we get messages from family telling us they have been thrown off a plane, we get told to "f*ck off back to Pakiland" by strangers on buses. I am only half-Pakistani, and I do not wear a hijab, but these things have all happened to me. I cannot even begin to imagine what those who are visibly and evidently Muslim must feel. 

We all need to come together, black, white, brown or yellow, and stand up to racism.

We must reject the ignorant ideas that are spread by some parts of the media. We need to educate people. We need everyone to realise that one man, who is absolutely not Muslim in any way, cannot represent an entire faith. But most importantly, we need to stop blaming the wrong people for our problems, and realise that the Government must not succeed in dividing a multicultural nation like ours. 

Miriam Walker-Khan is a Journalism MA student at the University of Sheffield.

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