One By One The Lights Go Out Across Europe
What is there really to say at this point that has not been said before, and before, and before, and before, and BEFORE? On Tuesday evening, a nail bomb went off in Manchester at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Twenty two people are dead, the youngest of which was eight years old (her mother has apparently not yet been told as she is in critical condition from the same attack), and many more are injured. A twenty-two year old named Salman Abedi has been arrested, the British born son of Libyan refugees. The terror threat level in Britain has been raised to critical, and for the immediate future members of the British armed forces shall be posted at all public events, as has been the normal state of affairs in France for over a year now.What stuck in my mind from the slow release of facts in dribs and drabs over social media on that terrible night is a video clip that floated around Twitter for some time. It was maybe twenty seconds long or so, and a very choppy (the owner probably was recording the concert before the blast sent them running for the exit without turning off the feed). It recorded the crowd as they jammed the stadium entrance frantically trying to escape, some hurling themselves over the scaffolding in their panic. Most of them were teenage girls, kids and tweens really. The screams were all so high-pitched.
Another item making the rounds through retweets was a headline by the Independent on how “There’s only one way Britain should respond to attacks such as Manchester. That is by carrying on exactly as before.” This has become a popular refrain of late. The idea that if we let terrorism change who we are we are letting the terrorists win. Well we can’t have that can we, so better keep calm and carry on!
Except the truth of the matter is we aren’t actually keeping calm and carrying on. When the streets of most major European cities are regularly patrolled by armed soldiers in full tactical gear, and public squares are lined with concrete barriers that is not “carrying on exactly as before”. When Swedish music festivals advise young women not to attend because they can’t guarantee their safety from sexual assault that is not “carrying on exactly as before”. When whole suburbs in Western Europe have become no go areas where women dare not walk the streets alone at night that is not “carrying on exactly as before.” This long war of terror has changed us. It has made us scared, and numb, and above all resigned.
One by one the lights are going out across Europe. It’s just something we have to get used to, we are told endlessly. This is just part of modern life, the refrain goes. Certainly there’s nothing to be done. Doing something would be messy (and my God might offend someone and we can’t have that!) Instead we’ve simply ritualized the whole sad affair with hashtags, and candle light vigils, and sanctimonious pronouncements that diversity is our strength and we shall not be divided. And attack by attack the barriers get that much higher, and the security zones get that much broader, and we huddle down just that much more.
The truth is that Rome is burning. The barbarians are past the gates. There is nowhere to hide. And no hashtag, no vigil, no sanctimonious pronouncement will save us. Only blood, toil, sweat and tears and the acceptance that the price may well be dear.