The ‘new normal’ of terror attacks

The difficulty of protecting soft targets from terrorism demands a nuanced response

French authorities investigate a truck used to kill dozens celebrating Bastille Day in Nice. Sasha Goldsmith via AP
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Alongside the responses of horror and revulsion at the lorry attack that killed 84 people peacefully celebrating Bastille Day in Nice was another reaction: resignation. With France having been subject to more than a dozen terror attacks in recent years, and with the average death toll increasing, many are accepting that this kind of event is "the new normal".

This is, of course, not a problem that solely affects France, although it has been the worst affected of the European countries. As we well know, Turkey, Bangladesh, Belgium, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other countries have all been subjected to recent terror attacks in which relatively soft targets – airports, bakeries, markets and places of worship – were chosen.

As we reported, France's security had been significantly beefed up for the Euro 2016 football tournament and it was concluded without any incident worse than clashes between rival fans. Other planned terror attacks on soft targets in France have also been thwarted before they could occur. But the nature of lone-wolf attacks makes it exceptionally difficult for the security services to prevent them all and the celebrations in Nice were just one of hundreds of similar events being held that evening.

There is not yet any compelling proof that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a 31-year-old French-Tunisian, was anything other than a disaffected petty criminal who has, at most, used ISIL as a flag of convenience to express his anger and frustration. It is also worth remembering this new normal is not actually new. France and Spain endured decades of attacks by Basque separatist groups, while the IRA subjected England to repeated bomb attacks between 1973 and 1996.

And if there is a silver lining to these latest violent attacks, it can be found in the more nuanced public response to the attack in Nice, where there is a better appreciation that the actions of one demented person do not automatically condemn an entire religion or an ethnic group. This is scant succour but a considered rather than angry response will be key to defeating this menace.