How Can We Ever Come To Terms With Acts Of Terror?
The Debrief: No one incident, no particular loss of life is any more or less horrific than another. They all leave a scar on our societies. The only appropriate response is sympathy.
Yesterday was Bastille Day, a day dedicated to celebrating liberty in France. So far eighty-four people have died as a result of a brutal attack in the French city of Nice last night. Dozens remain in hospital, it was not bombs or suicide vests which facilitated an act of terror but a lorry drove, which for more than a mile through crowds in the city as they celebrated Bastille Day. France’s President, Francois Hollande, has said that the nation will now observe three days mourning. At this point in to time no particular group has taken responsibility for the atrocity, but it is feared to have been a terrorist attack.
The last year has seen the world pummelled by acts of terror. A list which catalogues the number of incidents of terror which have taken place by month is tragically long and still growing. Some attacks such as Paris, Brussels, Ankara, Istanbul, Orlando and now Nice have been more heavily reported on than others. However, no one incident, no particular loss of life - regardless of location, regardless of numbers - is any more or less horrific than another. They all leave a scar on our societies, they all require our sympathy.
Today there are no hashtags doing the rounds, no swell of people changing their profile pictures on Facebook. In fact the attack on Nice is noticable in its absence from social media feeds. And yet, the use of a lorry to carry out such an indiscrimate act brutal act, along with the increasing frequency of such atrocities, highlights the sad and inescapable fact that such events are becoming more every day. A lorry, the sort of vehicle we all encounter every day, only serves to remind us that the threat of terror is constantly evolving.
Do some atrocities resonate more than others? If so, why? Following the attack on Paris last November Chris Brewin, a professor of psychology at UCL who has studied the mental health of communities in the wake of acts of terror, spoke to The Debrief. He explained that an attack on French soil would make ‘the Francophone community particularly sensitive’ because ‘hearing people talk about what happened in your own language makes it much easier to relate to the incidents.’
In terms of how we respond each time news of an act of gruesome brutality breaks, Professor Brewin says ‘people do have to have protective mechanisms otherwise one would feel under threat the whole time – of course if you have a psychological disorder like PTSD you do feel under threat the whole time’ However ‘most people are able to supress those thoughts and memories…there are limits as to how much feeling intensely other people’s distress is possible. But that’s not to say that you won’t feel intensely moved by and sorry for people in particular situations.’
What follows any atrocity is commotion. The backlash which inevitably and necessarily follows is frenzied – condemnations, accusations and promises of further ‘crack downs’. And yet, despite ‘high’ levels of alert around the world, despite increased security measures and promises of a ‘war on terror’ it seems that such attacks (which have long been a part of live in countries which we don’t commonly think of as tourist destinations and therefore have wrongly all too often failed to concern ourselves with) are becoming more frequent closer to home. The rhetoric of the long and continuing ‘war on terror’ has neatly divided the globe into allies and enemies, those people should fear and those they should look to for protection – the politicians. What we are learning, though, is that, despite our best efforts, we can’t always prevent an act of terror from occuring.
What we can do, however, is take time for reflection and create space for sympathy, if you’ve got nothing to add to the noise it is ok to stay quiet. But in saying nothing we must not shut ourselves off to the significance of events. We might not always be able to stop such atrocities but we can continue to do things which express hope for a better future, one in which we no longer turn on the news to hear that there has been a terrorist attack anywhere in the world.
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