Tuesday 22 August 2017

In Europe and beyond, nothing has changed — all is changing

VIGIL: Women break down in tears reading poignant messages for victims of the Nice massacre. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
VIGIL: Women break down in tears reading poignant messages for victims of the Nice massacre. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Fergal Keane in Nice

The sea is the same sea. I wake to the vivid ultramarine and the great southern sky. There are people taking the early morning air on the promenade. But it is not possible to say life is returning to normal, not when everybody has forgotten what normal means. Terror insinuates itself into the consciousness. We cannot shake our hands in rage at the terror of the 'lone wolf' as we might at an aircraft dropping bombs or an artillery man firing from across a front line. Terror walks among us, it slips a filter of mistrust across our eyes. So this morning I walked the Nice promenade. I nodded and smiled at citizens of many nations. We shared the stillness and the warm sun, and we looked into each other and beyond to the new world in which the public space can erupt in madness at any time. The same sea. The same sun. Nothing has changed. All is changing.

The night before I was crossing town by car. The taxi driver had seen the truck ploughing through the crowds. "It was horrible, horrible. I saw it all. The bodies were everywhere. My town! In my town can you believe? It happens everywhere but you never think here. Then it comes." I could see his eyes in the mirror. The man should have been at home with his family. He was traumatised and exhausted. But there was a living he had to make. And what would he do at home trying to explain to his wife what he had seen. "I cannot explain it," he said.

Can anybody? My first experience of terrorism was in Belfast in the 1980s. But there were certain rules. Large-scale killings of the opposing confessional group were mostly a thing of the past. Atrocities like Enniskillen captured headlines but terror was more about the relentless destabilisation of individual assassination. Neighbours watched and reported the movements of policemen, UDR men, Sinn Fein councillors, Catholics in flashpoint areas, businesspeople who supplied services to the security forces. "Each neighbourly murder", as Seamus Heaney called them. The primary purpose of terror is to instil fear. We live with suspicion of those with whom we share the same geographical space.

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