AMID all the reports of the horror of the shooting on Marhaba beach in Sousse, Tunisia, where 38 people were killed on Friday, including it is now thought 30 Britons, certain tragic details stand out.
In one report, in The Observer, a survivor, Tony Callaghan, speaking from his hospital bed, said: “To see what I saw, people lying dead in a corridor, two ladies in a pool of blood, a young man holding his dead fiancee’s hand.”
That final image truly is appalling, as too was the news on the front page beneath a picture of a young woman, Carly Lovett, a 24-year-old photographer and beauty blogger from Lincolnshire, who had been named as a victim.
It is always the human details, such as the man holding his dead girlfriend’s hand, that bring home the unspeakable nature of these terrorist attacks.
The headlines make a lot of noise, important noise, necessary noise, in bringing the immediate news. Yet away from the headlines, when the rumblings die down, ordinary people are grieving or suffering, often quietly, until an anniversary comes along. Such a date is with us now, as soon it will be ten years since the July 7 bombings in London.
David Cameron, writing in the Daily Telegraph this morning and on the BBC Today programme also, said the government would counter the threat posed by Islamist extremists with a “full-spectrum response”, and promised to show “unshakeable resolve” in the face of terror. He said, in other words, what was expected of him, and no one can blame him for that, although whether the forceful phrases translate into useful action is anyone’s guess.
One of the arguments in favour of renewing Trident, our nuclear deterrent system, is usually that this must be done to protect the nation from outside threat. Yet if one man on a warped, murderous mission armed only with an assault rifle, can cause so many deaths in one attack in Tunisia, it throws protection in a stark new light. No missile can guard against that scenario. That doesn’t necessarily wipe out the need for Trident, but it does put its usefulness in another light. Could some of those untold billions earmarked for missiles and submarines – some reports suggest renewal will cost £100 billion – be spent instead on other forms of protection?
The ease of tourism has made the world both bigger and smaller. A country such as Tunisia is a happy, commonplace destination, so normal and seemingly near to millions of tourists; and yet it is a long way off, too.
We went years ago and the people were friendly, and our daughter has been since, with friends who regularly visit Tunisia. On one of her trips, she was trapped in the country by volcano ash clouds following the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland.
We went as long ago as 1987, not long after four homemade bombs exploded at hotels in the coastal cities of Sousse and Monastir, injuring 13 people. One of the bombs went off in the bar of the Sahara Beach Hotel in Monastir, which was where we stayed not long after, a little nervous but not unduly so. It was one of those mystery holidays where you booked at the last minute without knowing the destination; chance pointed us towards a hotel that had been bombed.
Whether tourists will return to Tunisia now after this atrocity is another matter, with thousands of tourists having returned home early. As for possible solutions to the tragic and sprawling mess of Isis, we can only hope that some of the prime minister’s robust words do the job.