The word terror is originally French. It comes through the latin terrore, meaning a great fear, but comes down to the Romance languages through Old French terreur. In French history, La Terreur is a terrible period, where the French Revolution ate its own children. A hundred thousand people were estimated killed, guillotined, executed by firing squad or run through in the street by angry mobs. A great, paralyzing fear spread throughout the populace.
It meant a period in which the mobs turned on the individuals, where the sacred life of the few meant nothing to the greater passions of the revolutionary fervor and the ambitions of the powerful.
Waking this morning to the crushing news out of Nice, dozens upon dozens of festive people, mowed down while celebrating the Bastille day of that same revolution, I think my only reply to this can be a resolve not to be afraid. Not to be terrorized.
The terror in Nice is the terror of the French Revolution stood on its head. The individuals attacking the crowds, the political ambitions and anomie of the radical losers vented in fury on unsuspecting people going about their day.
Terrorism is a political act of violence. The violence impacts civilians, but its ultimate target is the state. The people killed are means to ends. It is the ultimate instrumental devaluation of human life: not just to be killed for no good reason, but your death made a public spectacle, a show, to change the minds of others.
Terror is meant to change you, to strike great fear into you and thereby change the actions of the state. Indeed, it already has, as Hollande has resolved to increase the amount of airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. It does change you. Terror has struck close to me, close to the people I love. It changes you, pulls you along on a massive psychological current of trauma, fear and pain.
But, as has been said so many times, the lesson we never learn: terror wins when it changes the actions of the state and strikes fear into the populace. That was the point of La Terreur, to make fearful the opponents of the terrorists. And that was the point of the murderer in the lorry yesterday. Winning against terror is not first and foremost stopping the next assassin. Winning is stopping the next one from changing our minds.
It is a fundamental attack on those very values of the French Revolution which La Terreur has always spat upon. I say like the revolutionaries: liberté, egalité, fraternité – ou la mort! I am not going to be afraid. I am not going to change because of a deluded loser in a lorry. I hope my beloved France thinks the same. Nous t’aimons, France.