Nice: ‘Unspeakable beauty – Unmistakable tragedy’

Terror strikes are becoming so frequent now that the new normal will have to be matched by unstoppable vigilance on the part of individual citizens as well as the national authorities

In commenting on the incident of 14 July in Nice at the Promenade des Anglais, a reporter lamented the ‘unmistakable tragedy’ that had taken place in this place of ‘unspeakable beauty’. Indeed, those who have had the opportunity to visit Nice especially in summer would certainly agree with this description.

However, the terrorist attack has forever scarred it in the minds of the millions of local and foreign tourists who have visited it, not to speak of the thousands who were there that fatal night. And for many years to come the memory of this gruesome killing and maiming will no doubt haunt those who will continue to visit the Promenade.

The details of this tragic aggression are already widely available in the media, accompanied as they were by the footage which included graphic video clips. And as usual in the aftermath, along with condemnations of the incident and expressions of support and solidarity to the French people and its Prime Minister by other world leaders, criticisms have also started to pour in on several fronts.

Criticisms

For example, one was about the pictures that were taken by those who were in the crowd showing mutilated people, especially children with severed limbs and so on, and which were posted on social media. These were considered to be in bad taste and insensitive, in particular those concerning the children. They no doubt were, because if the intention was to showcase the brutality of the violence and evoke not only pity but hoping too that such depictions would act as a deterrent to future attacks, unfortunately potential attackers are immune to such an appeal.

We always say listen to your conscience – but we have been seeing that those who attack have no conscience. And it has become politically correct (PC) to say that they are mentally deranged: but this is contradicted by their careful scouting and preparation which clearly indicate that they are fully in their senses and know exactly what they are doing. PC too it is to hear from the neighbours that so-and-so was always a nice person, very quiet and a good family man, pious and so on. Although, in the Nice case, he is now being described as someone who was not religious, ate pork, was given to drinking and was a social nuisance, etc.

However, this exception – or such exceptions – do not alter the fundamental. For he also carefully planned the attack and even went to stalk the Promenade twice on the eve of his ploughing through it with his 19-tonne truck – which he knowingly hired for the purpose: all this information has been quickly fished out by the investigators, and of course there’s more to come.

Inevitably, the fact that over 215 people have been killed in the eight months since the equally murderous attack in Bataclan, Paris in November last has led to criticism of President Francois Hollande. He has been severely blamed by his predecessor Sarkozy for his failure to ensure the security of the French people. Lack of sufficient police forces and inefficient response have come up as an issue, and comparisons have been made with Israel for its more effective preparedness during national public events – and celebration of the Bastille Day at Nice was undoubtedly one such, and well known too.

The new normal

Of course, as Israeli authorities have pointed out, they have been living under a state of permanent terrorism for many years now. Therefore not only are the people more psychologically prepared for it, they are also instructed about personal safety measures to be taken all the time. These supplement those that the State implements on an ongoing daily basis, and it goes without saying that security is beefed up on all special occasions when events are organized and crowds are expected to gather. It looks as if not only France but other European countries will sooner rather than later have to learn to live with this similar ‘new normal’ as the altered situation of terrorism from now on, hanging like a sword of Damocles over them, has been characterized following the Bataclan attack.

After Belgium and France, the rampage by a 17-year old Afghan refugee in Germany who had come in as an unaccompanied minor, and who has axed and knifed people in a train carriage, has raised the spectre of spreading terrorism across Europe. This would be an example of ‘low-tech’ terrorism, where no sophisticated equipment is required by the perpetrator. Included in this category too is the use of vehicles, from motorbikes to heavy ones like lorries as in Nice. As these are available to anyone, there is a fear that such ‘lone wolf’ attacks may become more frequent as they can be carried out by ideologically driven individuals acting on their own without the need for any logistic support from their source ‘radicalisers’.

Under these circumstances, complacency is not the option now, as has been the case after previous attacks when life returned to a semblance of normalcy and people tended to forget the painful memories. But the terror strikes are becoming so frequent now that the new normal will have to be matched by unstoppable vigilance on the part of individual citizens as well as of course the national authorities – with the latter working in conjunction across borders. Though with the rumbles following Brexit, one wonders whether they will impact on such cooperation among EU member states.

World in turmoil

Sad to say, but there is an ambient growing turmoil around the world. The recurrent shootings involving civilians and police officers in the USA have caused enormous trauma. It’s not only physical but emotional as well, as the ethnic and racist faultlines seem to have become even more pronounced, and there is an increasing polarization in the US population, as so many commentators there have pointed out.

Then comes the attempted coup d’état in Turkey, resulting not only in several deaths, but leading as well to the arrest of thousands of army officers including generals and admirals, and to the dismissal of thousands of other officers. Turkey has not taken too kindly to admonitions coming the US administration and the EU about the need to abide by the rule of law, throwing a shadow on its eventual membership of the EU, more so as its Prime Minister Raycip Erdogan has threatened to re-introduce the death penalty as an option when the putschists are going to face trial.

We are going through very troubled times indeed, and unless the younger generation all over the world take the future in their hands and work for peace very proactively, it will be ever elusive – and chaos will stalk their lives. We have run out of any option save that of actively fostering peace. The alternative is doom and destruction.

* Published in print edition on 22 July 2016

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