What most stood out in the aftermath of the dreadful terrorist attack that saw up to 38 dead on Tunisia’s beaches was the bravery of those tourists who tried to protect their loved ones or other tourists and the same bravery shown by hotel workers who chased the lone gunman until he was finally cornered and killed. The next day, once the horror of what had happened finally hit Government in the UK, the British prime minister, David Cameron, arranged that an article bearing his name was published on the front page of the Daily Telegraph. It was an inspiring write-up, reminiscent of speeches that Churchill could have made. It was full of contempt for the terrorists, fine words for the victims and their families, and promises that everything would be done to ensure this kind of murder – massacre – would not happen again. But despite Mr Cameron’s fine words there is an uncomfortable truth he dare not speak – namely, that this kind of warfare cannot be stopped. Unless…
It is now believed that up to 38 persons were killed at Sousse: of these, possibly 30 were Britons. Many more were injured. These victims were ordinary working-class holiday-makers, who had saved up their hard-earned money for a couple of weeks of sunshine. They chose Tunisia because it is less expensive than many other countries on the Mediterranean. The travel companies also described the country as one of the safest of the Arab-speaking countries – which it is – since its so-called ‘Arab Spring’.
The sad truth is that despite what Cameron said, there is nothing to prevent such an attack as happened at Sousse from happening again and again and again and again. Not just in Tunisia, but – well, anywhere in the world. Terrorism knows no national boundaries and for the death-cultist, tourists are always fair game.
The gunman who carried out the atrocity at Sousse seemingly acted alone (although more updated reports indicate he may have had an accomplice – a man identified as wearing red shorts, but who did not shoot). Today, Tunisian police revealed after making inquires that at least a dozen other people are believed to have been involved in the planning of the atrocity, though it is also known that the gunman who committed this carnage was not known to the Tunisian authorities.
And it is no matter whether what happened at Sousse was by ISIS, or inspired by ISIS, or simply carried out by someone who is delusional and believes he is acting on behalf of ISIS. These are irrelevant factors.
So should tourists panic? Should they cancel their holidays abroad in their thousands? Will, as a consequence, they now turn to safer havens – Margate, Cleethorpes, or even the music-hall derided (unfairly!) Bognor Regis? These are not flippant questions.
Indeed, the flip side to those questions is if Brits carry on as normal, should they make adjustments in the way they interact abroad? In the Nineteenth Century the only Brits who holidayed abroad were the wealthy, who chose either up-market resorts in Europe, or their equivalents in the colonies, drinking tea in Darjeeling or gin-slings in Singapore. For the colonists always knew that the British army or navy was close by to offer protection and, if necessary, carry out the occasional massacre when the ‘natives’ rebelled.
In the Twenty-First Century there are no Palmerstonian gunboats offshore to protect the tourists anymore, apart from the occasional warship to supposedly intercede the ‘people smugglers’. And if the Royal Navy was to turn up, it can hardly, even with the co-operation of other European navies, patrol every beach in every country that covers the Med, let alone anywhere else.
Cameron promised Intelligence help to the Tunisians. But that has limits too: identifying the intentions of the known suspects are far easier than identifying the intentions are the unknown assailants. A case of too many unknown unknowns, as Rumsfeld unfortunately once put it.
Cameron also alluded to Britain’s military support against ISIS in Iraq. However that campaign plays out, it has and will not have much impact on the beliefs of individuals or groups who, in countries across large swathes of the Middle East and Africa and even Europe seek only revenge for what they perceive is a great injustice on Islamic countries by the infidels. Not much comfort for the typical tourist from Huddersfield or Belfast or Inverness, then.
Perhaps part of the problem – and therefore part of the solution – is tourism itself, which has become a commodity that seeks a commodity. Tourists invariably look and behave like tourists. In the British case they sport lobster-burnt and often obese half-naked bodies that shout out “Look, I’m not like you. And I don’t want to be like you’. So perhaps tourists will have to begin to learn a different kind of tourism that’s more culturally sensitive. (There again, we should keep things in perspective: the chances of being a victim in a road accident in Dudley, say, are far, far greater than being a victim of a terrorist anywhere in the world.)
Back to that Cameron write-up… Predictably, the British PM took the opportunity to argue that terrorism can only be beaten by massively increased surveillance in the UK. Had he said targetted intelligence, that assertion would be difficult to challenge – but he didn’t and as we are now in the lead-up period for the introduction of a series of new bills and amendments to legislation that collectively support the notion of a ‘Snoopers Charter’, we can be forgiven for being suspicious of his motives in raising this the way he has.
To conclude… Can the jihadists be beaten on the beaches, or even via their mindsets? Sadly the answer is probably no – for all the above reasons. And Cameron is fooling everyone, including himself, if he thinks otherwise. For there is no pat answer here. This, in a nutshell, is the world we – or, more accurately, our governments – have partly created and a world we now have to live with. The natives are restless once again – only this time, we don’t know who the natives are, where they are and when and how they will strike. In the meantime, some honesty – not inspiring speeches – from politicians wouldn’t go amiss. But that is asking far too much…
Finally… this article was prefaced with a warning that it had no happy ending. That was a lie. On the evening of the attack, hundreds of local Tunisians took to the streets to condemn the attack and many European tourists joined them, saying that they would not be cowered by what had happened (see photo below).
For fear is a far bigger enemy than any evil that ISIS or similar can ever muster. As the old saying goes… we are many, they are few.