Even before the killing of Father Jacques Hamel the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, said that France “is going to have to live with terrorism”. Regular atrocities have become the “new norm”.
Imagine, if you will, going back in time. How long? Not long. Fifteen years.
Imagine saying that in two months three thousand Americans would be killed by jihadists. People would be shocked.
Imagine saying that three years later almost two hundred Spaniards would be killed. Their shock would intensify.
Imagine saying that a year afterwards fifty Londoners would be massacred. At this point they might feel sick.
Imagine saying that in two years, from January 2015 to August 2016, French journalists would be slaughtered for the crime of publishing cartoons; more than a hundred Parisians would be massacred for doing no more than enjoying a Friday evening; thirty-five Belgians would be killed in a suicide bombing; eighty-five Frenchmen would be run down by a madman in a truck; German festivalgoers would narrowly escape a suicide bombing by the virtue of a doomed jihadist’s incompetence and a French priest would have his throat cut in church.
Imagine saying this would seem normal. They would not believe you.
Was it not ever thus, older observers might suggest. What appears “normal” in one age is never “normal” in another. Young people would think it most abnormal for Irishmen to be slaughtering each other en masse, and Italians to be murdering politicians. But whatever one might say about the Troubles, the republicans and the loyalists had specific political aims that could be engaged with, and however one might feel about Red Brigades they had a coherent command structure that could be targeted. Neither of these things are true about jihadists in Europe. What now seems “normal” to us is more abnormal, and more dangerous, than what seemed “normal” to them.
What will be “normal” in fifteen years? What will seem normal then? Whatever it is, I am sure it would not seem “normal” to us. We must prepare for a future of abnormality.
Good piece. It looks like suicide bombing is becoming the new normal.
My childhood was spent in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and I can say that regular violence did become normal for us, as did very intrusive levels of security. Back in the 1970s every entrance to the pedestrian zone in Belfast city centre had a checkpoint where every single person was searched and every bag was opened and looked into. After getting past this cordon every shop of any size also carried out a search of every customer entering. It was a higher level of security than getting on a plane today, yet everyone quickly accepted it as normal.
One time when I left a small zip bag which had some AA batteries in it in a shop, by the time I went back to get it 10 minutes later the shop had been evacuated and police were in attendance beginning to move people back up the street. I was able to persuade them that the bag was mine and show them it was innocent enough and the bomb scare was called off.
Back then bombers didn’t want to kill themselves or get caught, so security could get even worse today. If they ever get nuclear weapons, who knows what hell could be unleashed…
Thank you for that, David. A moving account for one who had a so much more harmonious upbringing. It is easy to forget how good it is that Northern Ireland has achieved relatively peace and stability.