A woman whose image became an Islamophobic meme after the Westminster terror attack has told of her horror and distress at the incident and the abuse she suffered afterwards.
The picture shows the woman wearing a hijab and looking at her phone on Westminster Bridge as people gathered around an injured person nearby. It was circulated on Twitter and by anti-Islam blogs as supposed evidence of her lack of concern.
One social media user posted it alongside a photo of the Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood performing CPR on a victim with the caption the main difference between Muslims and Christians.
Another picture in the sequence made clear that she was distressed when it was taken. Now the woman has approached Tell Mama, a group which monitors anti-Muslim incidents, and asked them to circulate a statement on her behalf in response.
I’m shocked and totally dismayed at how a picture of me is being circulated on social media, she said. To those individuals who have interpreted and commented on what my thoughts were in that horrific and distressful moment, I would like to say not only have I been devastated by witnessing the aftermath of a shocking and numbing terror attack, I’ve also had to deal with the shock of finding my picture plastered all over social media by those who could not look beyond my attire, who draw conclusions based on hate and xenophobia.
She said her feelings at the time were of sadness, fear and concern, and added that she had talked to other witnesses to try to find out what was happening and see if she could offer help. She then called her family and helped a woman get to Waterloo station. My thoughts go out to all the victims and their families, she said.
She sent her gratitude to Jamie Lorriman, who took the picture, for speaking in her defence.
Tell Mama said the woman was distraught and that the use of the image has undermined the confidence of an innocent young woman who was also caught up in the melee after the attacks.
The woman has requested that the media stop circulating the image. She agreed to the Guardian’s use of the picture to illustrate a story clarifying the circumstances under which it was taken.
Earlier, Lorriman, who had been taking photographs of parliament at the time of the attack, told The Guardian he felt the pictures clearly showed the woman in distress.
Looking back at the pictures now she looks visibly distraught in both pictures in my opinion, he said. She’s in the middle of an unfolding horrific scene … I think her expression to me says that she’s horrified by what she’s seen and she just needs to get out of the situation.
We were all being told to clear the bridge at various stages, so it’s not unreasonable to think she’d been told to leave the bridge at some point just like everybody else.
But Lorriman said he felt the stronger reaction to the photograph had been from people coming to the woman’s defence. People going, you weren’t there, you didn’t see it, you’ve no idea what that woman’s thinking, so how can you possibly assume that she’s just casually on her phone?
It’s good to see that that seems to be the overwhelming response to the messages that are being put out there by certain people.
Many tweets were sent defending the woman. Some users shared images of the scene on Westminster Bridge that showed other passersby appearing unconcerned.
Others said she was likely to have been in shock and phoning family or friends.