THE latest terrorist attack in Paris is indeed a tragedy and must have been terrifying for the people present at the time the gunshots rang out along the Champs Elysees. The family of the one police officer who lost his life must be in agony as they come to terms with their loss.
No amount of media coverage will ease their pain or turn back the clock to prevent the attack from happening. But the inflated reaction and unreserved abandon with which news outlets cover this sort of incident might just pave the way for the next one.
The first I learnt of the attack was from the news alerts on my phone as BREAKING NEWS: TERROR ALERTS came streaming in in the wee hours of the morning. As I woke up to watch the news, it was the lead story on all the major networks. Correspondents stood amid a cluster of police cars along the popular Parisian shopping street, speculating on who the attacker was, who he was working with, if the second suspect might have a bomb, or perhaps further plans to disrupt the city. But all of it was just that – speculation.
The image of Europe’s romance capital brought to its knees was a powerful one. Paris’ most famous shopping boulevard, usually thronged with tourists, now void of people. The flashing blue and red of police trucks light up the designer outlets and heavily armed soldiers stand guard at the Arc de Triomphe as the lights of the Eiffel Tower glisten behind them.
Once again, the tragic death of a policeman has been turned into a media circus of which one madman is the ring master.
We saw the same happen with the latest London terror attack, following which reporter Simon Jenkins rightfully said on BBC Newsnight the over-the-top coverage was playing into the hands of the terrorists.
But in the case of Paris, it is not only playing into the hands of the terrorists, but also of the right-wing politicians.
Donald Trump was one of the first world leaders to pass comment. He was quick to jump to the conclusion it was a terrorist act and used it to reinforce the need to be “strong and vigilant,” affirming his approach is correct as he had been “saying this for a long time.”
And we cannot ignore the people of France head to the polls in less than 48 hours in an election that has the potential to change not just France, but the path of Europe, NATO and with it, many major world alliances.
This has been a close race in which immigration has played a major role. The question now is, how much will this latest attack boost the chances of far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.
Le Pen has been staunchly anti-immigrant, anti-European Union, pro-Russian, anti-American and pro-Trump throughout the campaign and the polls so far have placed her ahead of the pack for Sunday’s election.
Throughout her campaign, she has been spouting anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric that would make even the most extreme blush. The attention another terrorist attack is receiving only serves to stoke the fear on which Le Pen’s message thrives.
A victory for the anti-globalist would almost certainly make life for France’s Muslim population more difficult. This would play perfectly into the hands of jihadists and Islamic extremists who thrive on creating violent divisions in Western society.
And how easy it was to orchestrate – One man, a car and a Kalashnikov, and you have the world’s attention.
These acts are tragic, undoubtedly, but they are crimes of one madman and should be viewed as such. Mourn the dead, acknowledge the tragedy, but steer clear of over inflating it to a place of impressive grandeur. The only end that serves is to fuel the fear, the terrorists and the far-right. And right now, it seems they might be winning.