Catriona Fielke says acts of terrorism will never be successful, so long as we get back up, dust ourselves down and carry on with our carrying on.
It’s the summer of 1993. Driving home, we hear a loud bang that appears to have originated from a couple of miles away. Our car moves up over the hill that looks down into the town centre. A plume of smoke rises in the distance. We all know what it is. We do not stop driving. Mum simply comments:
“The bastards have done it again.”
Back home, we watch the news to discover details of the car bombing in Newtownards, Northern Ireland.
(I have forgotten which side was responsible that time, but it was usually the IRA, UVF, UDA, or some other initialism that had become second nature to the newsreader.)
We wait for the main details, then mum switches it off and proceeds to cook dinner.
“You’ll have to take the back road into town tomorrow, love,” Granda advises, “the road blocks will be a pain in the arse.”
This is one of the vivid memories I have of summers spent in Northern Ireland, the home of my mother’s family and the place where my parents met; she a nurse, he a soldier. I do not claim to be a witness to “the Troubles”. In fact, by the time I was born things had settled immensely and events such as this, although not completely out of the norm, had become a fairly irregular occurrence.
I was witness to a country of people who had been dealing with the scourge of terrorism for many years. What they had learned was this: the world does not stop and therefore neither should they. It wasn’t that they didn’t care, in fact, quite the opposite. They were angry that they were still suffering these unnecessary acts of cowardice after all these years. Every person had a story to tell, some sort of link to the violence to which they had been subjected for so long. They had grown tired, and no longer saw the point in breaking down every time. This country had witnessed the worst, and we were getting through it all.
A fine example of this is the Europa Hotel in Belfast, coined the ‘”Most Bombed Hotel in the World”. Estimations of how many times this infamous residence was attacked between 1970 and 1993 range from five to thirty, depending on the source. In all that time, the Europa never closed its doors. In fact, in a classic irony that only the Irish would understand, its main source of income during that time was housing journalists reporting on the conflict.
On 11 September 2001, two planes crashed into the World Trade Centre and it suddenly seemed liked the “War on Terror” had begun. Now, with the recent events in Paris, Sydney and Ottawa, the global terror threat is at an all-time high. The world seems changed.
However, it is not necessarily the world that has changed, but rather, how we view it.
Or, at least, how it is reported.
Here’s the thing. Terrorism has been around for centuries, it’s just that we either did not know how, or had not yet invented the means, to report it.
You may not think it goes back so far, but Guy Fawkes was a real person.
Think back. The Oklahoma Bombing, the Tokyo Subway Attack, the Manchester bombing. We always found out about these events after the fact. There was no home internet, no social media, no 24-hour television and no camera phones. The events weren’t unfolding before our eyes…and it always seemed to be happening to someone else. The PLO of Palestine, ETA of Spain, and the IRA of Ireland/Northern Ireland were all organisations that existed elsewhere. No real threat to us.
Modern communication has changed all this. We know what happens, when it happens, all in an instant. We watch as events unfold in front of us, unable to stop it. We comment on Facebook and Twitter. We are involved and we are scared.
Modern technology also gives those who wish to pursue evil acts against innocent people an open forum for recruitment and publicity. It is a sad fact that the media attention given to their acts is also fuel for their ever-increasing fire.
After 9/11, the globe began to learn more about terrorism and what terrorists were capable of. The Taliban and Osama Bin Laden became catchcries for the evil of the world. For Australians, the Bali bombings struck much further than the Sari Club and Paddy’s Pub. It felt personal, cruel and unjust. Such things do not happen to our people.
What we have to remember is this: just because we now know it exists, that doesn’t mean we should change how we live. We can mourn, we can condemn and then we must continue on. We should still take that train ride, go on that shopping trip and run that errand. Because we have to.
Think about the people of Northern Ireland. Things have settled down and they now live in relative peace. There is still unrest, there are still scars, but they move on. Throughout the world, there are always stories where vile people have attempted to destroy the way of life through violence and fear. They have failed.
This is why we should not be afraid.
History tells us that as long as we carry on carrying on, they will not win. On some occasions they may strike a gut-wrenching blow that knocks us. When this happens, we will get back up, dust ourselves down, remain calm and keep going.