Courage of the woman who defied public savagery
Yesterday’s papers led with a gruesome photo of blood-soaked assassin on a suburban London street. But another very different image from the scene may say something deeper about our world.
Twenty-four hours ago, millions of British people awoke to one gruesome image: a blood-soaked man gesticulating at the camera, machete in hand.
The figure in the pictures had just committed one of the most monstrous crimes in recent history. In broad daylight, on a busy London street, he and an accomplice had attacked an unarmed British soldier and hacked him to death.
Alongside the image, many newspapers carried quotations from the murderer himself. ‘You people will never be safe’, announced the Guardian front page. ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’, the Daily Telegraph’s headline ran. Both the words and the images were taken from a video in which the murderer ramblingly explained that his crime was intended as revenge for the actions of British troops in Muslim-majority nations.
The crime was repellent. But hidden deeper inside the pages of each newspaper was a very different tale: the story of the passer-by who had stopped on her journey home from France to reason calmly with the killers.
Ingrid Loyau-Kennett was on her way to meet her children when she saw the victim’s body from the window of the bus. Having learned the basics of first aid for her position as a cub scout leader, she stepped onto the street to help.
Before she could reach the victim, one of his killers approached her bearing a knife and a revolver. His blood-stained appearance might easily have provoked terror, repugnance or rage. But Loyau-Kennett did not succumb to any of these emotions.
Instead, realising that the man was excitable and concerned about what else he could do, she engaged him in conversation. She questioned why he had killed the man, asked him to hand over ‘what he was holding in his hand’ and enquired what he planned to do next. In all, the pair talked for around five minutes; when she believed she could do no more, she mounted another bus and went home.
This was no act of heroic defiance: just simple, level-headed humanity.
The power of the ordinary
A glance at yesterday’s front pages prompted many readers to very bleak conclusions. If even peaceful Britain is vulnerable to such barbarism, they say, the fabric of civilised society must be threadbare indeed. These murderers, disgustingly wrong in all other respects, are right about one thing: in the face of such savagery nobody is safe.
But Ingrid Loyau-Kennett’s behaviour carries a more hopeful message: even the most horrendous of crimes is not enough to shatter the power of ordinary decency. As long as there are more brave and reasonable people like her than furious and violent people like the killers, civility will hold strong. ‘It is only you versus many people,’ as Loyau-Kennett said. ‘You are going to lose.’
- Does reading about the Woolwich attack scare you? Do you think it should?
- Were newspapers right to publish images and quotes from the Woolwich murderer’s speech?
- Imagine you are a newspaper editor on the afternoon of the Woolwich attack. Write down the headline that you would run on your front page.
- Think of a time when you have had to remain calm in a difficult situation and describe your experience in a paragraph.
Some People Say...
“Decency is more powerful than brutality.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- How can I feel safe on the streets after something like this?
- Incidents like this are exceptionally rare. Before this week, nobody had been killed by terrorists on British soil since 2006. Since then roughly 10,000 people have been killed in driving accidents, a million died from heart disease and 250 struck by lightning. It’s natural to be shocked and upset, and to question why this happened – but your own safety is not at risk.
- So how should we respond?
- This attack will undoubtedly reignite debates about how to deal with terrorism and Islamic extremism. That’s a difficult and complicated question. But we should also heed the words of David Cameron: ‘One of the best ways of defeating terrorism is to go about our normal lives,’ he said yesterday. ‘And that is what we shall all do.’
- A hacking tool used for a variety of purposes, including cleaving meat, harvesting plants and cutting through tough vegetation.
- Busy London street
- The attack took place in Woolwich, south London, close to a major army barracks.
- Drummer Lee Rigby of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
- An eye for an eye
- This phrase, the so-called ‘law of talionis’, argues for a system of justice in which a wrongdoer receives a punishment that matches the harm they have done. It first appears in Babylonian law and was later adopted by early Israelites, but it is criticised in the New Testament in the same verse that proposes an alternative morality: ‘turn the other cheek’.
- British troops
- Since 2001, Britain has been involved in military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The UK also supported the recent invasion of Mali, which aimed to suppress an insurrection by a violent and repressive group linked to al Qaeda.