by Chris Leadbeater, The Telegraph, August 21, 2017
It is no longer possible to know what counts as being “too soon” when it comes to the idea of life returning to normal in the aftermath of tragedy.
In a troubled era when the “Breaking News” ticker can begin to flash on your TV, phone or computer screen at any moment, and the information it brings may well be another shard of despair, it is difficult to say what constitutes day-to-day existence, or whether we can slip back into it when it has been ruptured by a bomb blast, a knife rampage, or a delivery van used as a weapon.
On one hand, last week's terrorist attack in Barcelona was shocking – another jagged shard of brutality and barbarism, thrust into the warmth of a European summer day. On the other, it was depressing in its rank familiarity. The initial report of an incident. The talk of a vehicle leaving the thoroughfare and ploughing into pedestrians. The brief hope that this is random accident rather than planned atrocity. The first images of bodies on the pavement, and the injured in pain. Twitter streams of rumour and fear. The confirmation that this is a deliberate act with an evil purpose. The same footage repeated on the evening bulletins, this time with the bodies pixelated in the name of decency and respect.
It is for this reason that any discussion of rearranging travel dates, of cancelling that trip to Barcelona, of looking for a destination free from all this madness, is pointless. Where will the next assault occur? Who knows? When will it happen? Probably soon, and with the same grim pattern. This is an entrenched fight between the west and the liberties it stands for, and a perverted ideology founded on hatred and ignorance. It is not pinned to one particular location, or a series of possible places. It is everywhere, and it is ongoing.What happened on Las Ramblas on Thursday afternoon was no longer extraordinary – just the latest episode in a sorrowful saga. This is not, for a moment, to downplay the fate of the people who have lost their lives, nor the suffering of the more than 100 people who were badly hurt on the cobbles of the Catalan capital’s most famous street. It is simply to say that for Barcelona in August 2017, you can read London Bridge in June, or Westminster Bridge in March, or Breitscheidplatz in Berlin in December 2016, or the Promenade des Anglais in Nice in July 2016. And this is just to list the cases where a car or lorry has been turned onto passers-by. It does not include bloody recent events in Manchester, Paris, Tunisia or Istanbul. When does life return to normal? This is normal.
Photo by AP Photo/Manu Fernandez via Newscred
One glance at the identities of the casualties in Barcelona – people from 34 nations – should be proof, if it were needed, that this is a struggle which goes beyond borders. The victims have come from Argentina, Austria and Australia, from Germany and Greece, from China, Colombia and Canada, from Pakistan and Peru. This was an assault on us all.
What should be our response to this? There is only one possible reply. To keep travelling. For if nowhere is safe, then there is no sanctuary to seek. And if there is no sanctuary – and events in the UK this year have demonstrated that there are no home comforts here – then there is little option but to go outside, and carry on regardless. In fact, it is essential that we alter our plans as little as possible. To withdraw into ourselves – to not catch that flight, to stay away from that beautiful beach, to not go to that intriguing waterfront restaurant – is to give up a little of our freedom. To shut down our movements is, as the saying increasingly goes, to let the terrorists win.
A quick read of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s travel advice for Spain – updated in the wake of yesterday’s attack – is also enlightening. True, it mentions events in Barcelona. But it does not suggest that British citizens should avoid a country which so many of us love to visit. It does warn the reader about the growing issue of people dying by falling from balconies, and warns: “Don’t take any unnecessary risks, especially when under the influence of drink or drugs.” But otherwise, it sticks to the advice that “over 12 million British nationals visit Spain every year. Most visits are trouble-free.” The same largely applies to France, or Germany, or to anywhere else where the clenched fist of terrorism has been raised in anger. The way to fight back is to stand and face it, whether that be from a sun-lounger, a terrace café or a rooftop bar.