I have visited Nice and the Cote d’Azur for years. I know the Promenade des Anglais; I have strolled along that generously wide, palm-tree lined sidewalk. Nice, of all the towns along that lapis-lazuli blue coastline, has been synonymous for centuries with genteel holidaying, and a winter retreat, especially for the well-heeled English escaping their own damp cold climes.
Suddenly, it is yet another of our urban war-zones.
My own cousins, who live there, were out watching the Bastille Day fireworks, as they do every year. They tell me they left three minutes before a man decided to turn a truck into a weapon of mass destruction, and the Promenade into a killing field. My cousins were luckier than the scores and scores of people, residents, tourists, men, women, and children, who never saw it coming and couldn’t get out of the way fast enough.
Even for a war correspondent, this is shocking. We expect to see this kind of carnage out there; we do not expect it in here, on our beaches and sidewalks, in our concert theaters and restaurants, in our sports arenas, newsrooms, and supermarkets.
Yet we can expect even more of it now. Covering the horrific Bataclan attacks in Paris last year, I asked Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris whether he accepted that this was “the new normal.”
He vigorously rejected the very idea: “This is not normal,” he said at the time. “It will not be normal. It will not become normal. This is an aberration.”
Yet since then we have had Brussels, Orlando, Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad and now Nice.
Perhaps the most profound reality check came today from French Senator Nathalie Goulet, vice chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
She told me “the message of the day is no-one can prevent this. No state of emergency, no police, no special powers.”
She said France has done everything it can, thrown as much law enforcement and as many emergency measures at the crisis, and yet it’s happened again. She says there is no more secure city than Nice, as both the mayor and the president of the regional council have stepped it up massively with surveillance cameras, facial recognition technology, police – the works. In Goulet’s words, “we are already at maximum security, what more can we do?”
France is taking a robust lead in the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. On Friday the government again declared the nation to be at war, and President Hollande vows to increase the pressure on ISIS. On the other hand, experts say it is precisely because they are being confronted in their strongholds that they are lashing out in our streets.
I do not believe this is about terrorists attacking “our way of life, our values, our freedoms,” which Western leaders say as they vow to continue the fight against terrorism. While they lash out at us, they kill many more of their own. This is war by a totalitarian movement that wants to dominate Muslims and anyone else. Surely they have to be defeated; surely it’s now or never; surely an offensive equal to the threat must be mounted?
Just to remind about what we are seeing on our streets – the first issue of al Qaeda’s online Inspire Magazine, issued in summer 2010, included this directive:
“O Muslims rise up in defense of your Messenger: a man with his knife, a man with his gun, a man with his bomb, by learning how to design explosive devices, by burning down forests and buildings, or by running over them with your cars and trucks.”
None of these weapons is new, not even the use of a car or truck. Remember Palestinian attacks in Jerusalem in 2014; Tim McVeigh’s explosive-laden vehicle that blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995; or the one that damaged the World Trade Center in 1993; or the one that plowed into the University of North Carolina in 2006, or the one that killed a single solitary person in Venice Beach. And on it goes….