In the early hours of the morning, a man drives a van into a group of Muslim worshippers in North London.
It is the fourth attack in the United Kingdom in as many months and clearly aimed at the Muslim community, coming just days before the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Some fear it is part of an anti-Muslim backlash, in the wake of the previous attacks attributed to Islamist extremists.
A new mound of sympathy flowers grows in yet another London neighbourhood.
Then just after 11 a.m. local time, London comes to a standstill for a moment’s silence in memory of the 79 victims of Grenfell Tower, the residential highrise that burnt with such shocking intensity last week. The fire horrified the nation and led to allegations of gross negligence on the part of the local council.
People at the site of the mosque attack bow their heads in silence and sympathy, too.
Across the English Channel, in Brussels, government ministers begin exit talks with the European Union, just 11 days after British voters delivered a hung Parliament.
This has not been a good year for Britain. Just ask the Queen.
“Today is traditionally a day of celebration,” she said Saturday in her annual birthday message. “This year, however, it is difficult to escape a very sombre national mood.”
She was referring, of course, to the separate attacks on the Westminster and London Bridges, the Manchester bombing, and the Grenfell fire.
‘Nobody knows what to expect’
But the political uncertainty created by the results of the recent election and the schism within Britain caused by last year’s vote to leave the European Union have made people feel particularly unmoored — and just when they crave clear leadership the most.
“It’s a time of immense insecurities when nobody knows what to expect next,” says Polly Toynbee, a British commentator who recently authored a book called Dismembered, about the dismantling of the British welfare state.
“It feels peculiarly rudderless and shapeless,” she says of Britain today, calling Brexit a “kamikaze mission, all of our own invention.”
“Because there’ve been these consistent incidents in London, and … the other one in Manchester, across the country, there is a mood of uncertainty and most people want to be led with strong leadership and people want answers,” adds Saba Zaman, another British journalist who writes about religion and ethics.
Zaman believes the attacks, coupled with the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, might cause people to question the wisdom of Brexit just as the negotiations get underway.
“Once we do go out of the EU, what will happen?” she says. “Are we going to be protected? Do we have our neighbouring counterparts to protect us?
“You know, nobody really knows. The future is quite uncertain.”
And, according to some, so is the future of Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May.
May has clearly been trying to do what T-shirts and coffee mugs all over the city shout at passersby: “Keep calm and carry on.” But many pundits say May’s days in office may well be numbered in the wake of the June 8 vote that saw her lose her Conservative majority in Parliament.
“I don’t think she can ever be strong and stable again,” says Toynbee. “That’s gone forever.”
Tough time for Theresa May
For now, Toynbee says, the Conservative party may need her to remain in place given the potential difficulties of organizing a leadership contest amid the Brexit talks.
But May is struggling to form an agreement to win support from the Democratic Unionist Party, a fundamentalist Christian party from Northern Ireland.
Former Conservative prime minister John Major has warned that if she does, it could signal the end of the Northern Ireland peace deal by sacrificing Britain’s role as an objective party.
May has also been pilloried for cutting police numbers when she was home secretary and for her perceived coldness toward the victims of Grenfell Tower in the days after the fire.
While the prime minister visited the site, she initially failed to speak with any of the victims. That’s in stark contrast to British Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was pictured hugging volunteers and survivors.
May has announced a five-million pound ($8.4 million) emergency fund for surviving Grenfell residents. But anger continues to burn in the poverty-stricken neighbourhood surrounding the block, which is situated in one of the wealthiest boroughs in London.
Protesters on Friday broke through the closed doors of the Kensington and Chelsea council responsible for the area. Some marched on Downing Street demanding May’s resignation.
The Grenfell fire “lifted the stone” to expose what Toynbee describes as the “gross inequality” that exists in the country.
Spike in hate crimes
After Monday’s attack in North London, not far from the Finsbury Park mosque, May echoed the mantra of the police and other political and community leaders, saying that an attack on any faith is an attack on all Londoners.
But the steady spike in hate crimes recorded after the recent attacks presents an added layer of uncertainty for British Muslims.
Earlier this month, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, released figures showing a spike in Islamophobic incidents after the June 3 attack on London Bridge and Borough Market. Overall, racist incidents were up 40 per cent compared to the daily average.
Zaman, a Muslim, says it’s just one more thing to worry about.
“I will admit, overnight, I did send a message to my friends to say I’m actually feeling a bit nervous. And it’s not a nice feeling. But I’m extra cautious when something like this happens.”
Most Brits, Zaman included, take some comfort in their reputation for stoicism during times of difficulty. There have been many acts of solidarity and unity, too, in these uncertain times.
As the Queen put it: “Put to the test, the United Kingdom has been resolute in the face of adversity. United in our sadness, we are equally determined, without fear or favour, to support all those rebuilding lives so horribly affected by injury and loss.”
But these days are particularly trying for this country. And they could be forgiven for feeling so uncertain.