Naked Politics Blogger
Terror attacks in western nations, especially of the scale of the one in Nice last week, are rarely overtaken by other news stories. But such is the crushing feeling of inevitability and defeat that accompanied the tragic event that it just doesn’t feel ‘new’. The anger that rallied into solidarity may soon be used up. Fear and pain may be all that is left.
The murderer, Mr. Bouhlel, had one simple goal. To kill, devastate and terrify. All of this he achieved. In terms of damage, he is one of the most effective jihadists in recent years. A one man attack claimed at least 84 lives.
The depths of his links to ISIS are almost irrelevant. People see this as an act of militant Islamism and so it will be felt as one. The terror accompanies that link. ISIS gain from this event regardless of what Mohamed Bouhlel wished to achieve. The intentions of terror are subservient to its effect.
Terror is achieved. People live in fear, feel like they are in a state of war against a religious entity and the fabric of French society risks being further throttled by ethno-religious division. Every attack provides the National Front with added support, and the tolerance, multiculturalism and freedoms that jihadis so despise, become ever more distant.
While ISIS condone the attack, they have not said they organised it. Bouhlel struggled with Ramadan and was a known drinker. A sinner by any Muslim standards, his fight was not a religious one. Taking medication to assuage psychotic episodes, he was on the books of local police as a petty criminal and was also violent towards the women in his life. Violence was all he seemed to have in common with the so-called Islamic State. But that is all they needed him to have.
The sheer brutality of his acts answer directly to Daesh’ call for their version of ‘good’ Muslims to ‘run over’ the French with their cars. It is a means of exacting pain open to anyone, anywhere in the world. Gun laws vary by region, bombs are relatively hard to make securely, but cars, vans and lorries, they can be found anywhere. When something as mundane as a vehicle becomes militarised, the sense of fear and foreboding can be all encompassing. There is no escape from potential weapons of war.
The wound in the French psyche lies wide open. This was their most historically loaded day in the calendar. Bastille day, where prisoners of the ‘Ancien Régime’ were locked up and then set free by the revolutionary people. Prisoners saved by the masses. But now it is those masses who must feel most imprisoned.
The French government’s calls for more people to join the army as reservists is a wise move because it lets people feel like they’re doing something. The contribution is in public morale, not physical security. The fight itself is—ironically in a battle lead by people who commit atrocities in the name of a god—largely a spiritual one. The broken hearts and shattered spirits must find common purpose, a unity that might one day, like the marching boots of the revolutionary age, come to define France’s future. It may be also what ends up convincing the young and violent, malleable minds of potentially Islamist leaning, that life offers more than death.