Last Friday night, millions of people around the world did what millions of people do around the world every weekend. They ate, they drank, they laughed, they loved, they enjoyed music, they watched football. They did things to see off the stresses of the working week. They were doing things that people of an age do, they were enjoying life, a life to which they had become accustomed.
And then in the space of one hour all of that changed. The world watched on as a major act of criminality was carried out, the first major one in a western city since the advent of social media. And for that city, everything changed. Paris will return to normal, but it will never forget the terrible events of that night. And perhaps some of its joie de vivre will temporarily disappear with it.
Terrorism aims to do that. The real lasting force of terror is not the velocity of the explosive, or the bullets. That is just the immediate act that prompts a rational reaction of fear and panic and maiming and death. A stronger force is the aftermath.
Those who bomb and destruct and kill, do so with the intention of making the enemy react in an irrational way, to alter their state of reason and judgment, to do things that will create more enemies, more reason for more destruction down the road. They do so with the hope we will change our lives, become hardened. That we will despise them and anyone we assume is linked to them. They hope that this change will add to the justification for their behaviour. That it will become cyclical and create more hatred.
It is sometimes hard to forget that we are just a few decades away from when such terrorism was commonplace in Ireland. I remember the dreary wet schooldays of the 1970s and 1980s with the dullness of the rain made duller each morning with the grey news from the radio that deaths had taken place, that men, women and children had been killed or maimed. That enmities to last a lifetime had been forged. That families were left bereft. Forever.
Here in the West of Ireland we were spared the worst of all of that. It was as if the world of terrorism and shooting and killings and car bombs was in another planet, and not just three hours up the road. And because we did not live it in the moment, we did not view it with the same emotions as those caught up in it, those who lived their lives in fear of it.
We take for granted the right to live in a society where we don’t have to check under our cars, where we can gather in markets and at matches without the fear of some extremist commiting an atrocity that is never ever worth the loss of human life. In vast tracts of the world, terrorism is probable rather than possible. The bereaved families of Beirut and of Yola in Nigeria are in no way less traumatised than those who suffered the losses in France.
Terror can only succeed if we aid it, if we succumb to the threat of it, if we alter our lives, allow it to win, allow the terrorists to win. And although it is hard to ignore the reality of it, once that becomes an attainable prize for any terrorist, this will continue.