As have other countries. I phoned home at the crack of dawn to find out if my family was ok. They might have been celebrating on the Promenade of The English, in the Bay of the Angels, they were not. The little cousins wanted to, but as fate would have it my uncle was not feeling great, so no fireworks. Other families were not so lucky. From across the globe, people with a selection of skin pigments, born within different borders, with different religious beliefs or maybe none, children and adults were killed by one man and a truck.
All are equally missed by their families and friends.
As are people in Iraq or Afghanistan and many countries beside.
I was hardly surprised, if sickened all the same, to find out that the media have so lost the plot, with the search for the boring truth sidelined by sensation, that a major French television channel thought it normal to broadcast events in Nice as they were happening, through the night, after the attack. We are so used to films portraying wars, death and bloody scenes that people in charge of a national television channel thought it appropriate to have a live stream of the aftermath of such an attack. Who would benefit from this? Families looking on, desperate to find out if their loved ones were there, or the terrorists looking on with glee as yet more havoc was created in the country of fraternity and freedom?
What strikes me now is the perception of these attacks, and how the press handles such events. I can’t help but wonder why the President of a Republic that has just been wounded makes a speech within hours that goes on about the horror that families have to endure. Is it necessary to elaborate about death, pain, or injuries. In such circumstances there really is very little to say, apart from thank you to the Republic’s servants from the police to the health professionals, to the volunteers ready to listen to the atrocities that have just happened so the victims can learn to cope best they can, and presenting condolences to the victims’ families. This takes a minute, anything else is filling time in front of a camera; anything but reassuring.
Families who did not lose someone in this attack, or a previous one, are possibly angrier and definitely more scared to hear their Head of State who cannot control such events wax lyrical about the attack. Does he or she run not the risk of making his countrymen and women feel more vengeful against this enemy with no particular face, yet with many potential faces within. Leadership we’re told. What does it mean?
As for the Prime Minister declaring, within hours again, before any investigation has started that the killer is “one way or the other” linked to terrorism, what does he mean, how does he know? Was the killer inspired, or was he part of that group that has become the devil incarnate? If the killer was simply inspired by similar attacks, it is not time to give these attacks less air time, less chances to continue to inspire those that may not have been inspired in the first place. Until we know for sure why this man did what he did, if we ever do as he cannot testify, until the police and the judiciary have done their difficult job, would it not be best to shut up?
What I do not understand, after attacks, as was the case in Paris, and now in Nice, in an age when instantaneous, short term and sensation have taken over wisdom, foresight or integrity, is that it takes days for a group of fanatics to say “Yes, that was us, we did it”. Surely if a group is intent on creating havoc, they will shout about it on rooftops as soon as it is done, to prove they are on the ball, that they coordinated it, so that the rest of us are in no doubt that their intentions are to destabilise us, scare and anger as many people as possible. Why wait?
It could seem convenient that when an attack happens, the same group takes -as they would see it- the glory of such horror. If nobody else claims it, they might as well. Do all killers belong to gangs? When I wrote after the Paris attack, french friends contacted me to say “Yes but Nat, they don’t think like you. They don’t understand reason.” True, I have thankfully never been in a situation where killing a human was acceptable, so I am the last person to understand why a terrorist group would wait days before claiming an attack as their own. Still, if the man was not actively part of the group and was ‘merely’ inspired by them, is it just the group’s doing?
Have the media not helped the cause of the terrorists by putting them on top of the agenda, do they not have any responsibility in helping the cause of terrorism?
Some call that propaganda, in whose interest then?
According to Le Monde, the Home Office minister said ‘the individual seems to have been radicalised very quickly. He spoke of “a new type of attack” perpetrated by “Individuals sensitive to the message from Daech (Arab acronym for Islamic State) who turn into extremely violent actions without necessarily having been trained by them”.
It is also worth mentioning the man was not religious according to the neighbours. Whether the man had mental health issues or not, who takes any responsibility for making murders and bloody scenes as normal as children playing in the park? The TV channel that broadcasted all night has apologised, but it goes to show quite how skewed the perception of normal has become. For the press, it is quite normal and seemingly accepted to make huge mistakes, and then say sorry, didn’t mean it, and continue as if nothing had happened. As for politicians, our leaders, sorry is not even part of the vocabulary lest they admit that they are humans who can get things wrong; just in case the press destroys their career.
Once the harm has been done, whether spreading vicious rumours, misinforming the public, lying in big letters on front covers and then a little apology some days and pages later, it is often impossible to forget. Lies become accepted truth, deaths become normal. It is not just trained army professionals that fights our wars, it is also civilians here and there who die. Every day. Isn’t it time our governments and army chiefs started listening with a more open mind to people who are proposing different solutions? Do they want to? Do corporations want to? Have countries done enough to re-train employees of the arms trade so they can continue to feed their families?
From Chilcott to Trident, from Iraq to Nice, from Blair to Clinton, from Europe to the rest of the world, we all know that arms and energy mostly drive our current wars, borders and religions the mere wheels that keep being oiled by the powerful decision makers. I’ve heard this since I was a teenager, and that was a long time ago. My uncle luckily did not get killed in Nice. His father, my grandfather, and his brother, the uncle I never met, however, were killed in 1962 in Algeria. Civilian victims of a war created by French governments who inspired people from France, Spain, Malta and elsewhere to go and populate a country France had taken over, to turn it into France’s bread basket. That war, called ‘events’ for decades, as governments don’t want to admit to civil war, left millions of people suffer the consequences of governments’ mistakes to this day. To this day.
Once a member of your family is killed, forgive and forget are mere words. The uncontrollable feeling of hatred, anger and revenge takes over, the gut feeling comes back time and again, even when the head knows in its moments of calm that wars destroy people’s soul. It takes a second to kill. It takes generations to achieve hindsight and forgiveness.
It is high time we realised that news 24/7 is harmful to many, that the strength of our leaders is not how well they perform in front of a camera or how much they shout and sneer in the Commons, that the few politicians who are determined to pave the way for a more peaceful planet should get as much air time as the few extremists who are intent on killing discriminately because they have managed to get hold of weapons that governments have helped sell for the sake of the economy. Why has the BBC got a Trump hotline yet hardly ever mentioned Sanders? When a truck becomes a weapon and a bullet stops the driver, when the world becomes so warped it is hard to know what is normal, is it not time to realise that we need to listen to different people?
Our national television channels need to change their priorities and inform us on how Veterans for Peace, or War Child or countless other charities and organisations have come to the conclusions they have. Of course we can wonder why these organisations seeking a more peaceful outcome don’t get much air time and seek the information ourselves. Or we’ll keep going round in circles as we have since eternity.
I can only hope that my loved ones do not fall prey to random attacks as my grandfather did.
As do all humans on the planet.