Beach massacre leaves Tunisia and UK reeling

Aftermath: The Sousse resort stands deserted following Friday’s horrifying slaughter © PA

At least 15 British people have been killed by a lone gunman in a bloody assault on the Tunisian resort of Sousse. How should we react to seemingly senseless atrocities like this?

At this time of year, the Tunisian beach resort of Sousse is usually teeming with holidaymakers. Today, however, its white sands and turquoise seas are without visitors. Deckchairs stand empty, ominously encircled by a line of black and yellow police tape. Here and there bunches of flowers are scattered. Amid one of them a card has been placed, bearing a single word: ‘Why?’

On Friday, Sousse was the scene of a bloody and horrific attack. As tourists bathed in the midday sun, a man rode in from the sea with an assault rifle hidden beneath his parasol and began to pick off anybody he could identify as European. Terrified crowds stampeded for their hotel rooms, but many did not make it. By the time the police ended the massacre by shooting the murderer dead, the beach was strewn with bodies. At the latest count, 39 people have lost their lives. At least 15 of them were British.

Although the killer appears to have acted alone, it seems clear that he was inspired by the propaganda of IS (so-called ‘Islamic State’). The bloodthirsty militant group quickly claimed responsibility for the attack and warned of further violence over the course of the summer.

For the families’ victims and the wounded survivors, these murders are a nightmarish tragedy. For Tunisia, they are catastrophic in another way.

The small North African nation was a rare success story of the wave of anti-authoritarian protests in 2011 known as the Arab Spring, emerging with a stable and popular democratic government. Whereas neighbouring countries like Libya have descended into terror-ridden anarchies, Tunisia has experienced only isolated attacks — most notably in March, when 21 visitors were shot in a museum in the capital city of Tunis.

Between them, these two attacks will devastate the tourism industry that is vital to Tunisia’s economy. Roughly 500,000 of the country’s 11 million inhabitants rely on tourism for their jobs. Without it, Tunisia’s economy is at risk of collapse — and that would leave its young democracy in danger too.

The problem of evil

So what is the answer to that anguished question posted amid the flowers? Why would anybody commit such a barbaric and bloodthirsty crime? To many, faced with a barrage of chilling images and graphic eyewitness accounts, there seems only one possible answer: senseless brutality and evil.

But while such cruelty may seem to defy reason, perhaps there is a cold rationality behind the violence. Attacks like this spread fear, fury and hostility, and feed the chaos on which terror and fundamentalism thrive. Do not give the killers what they want, some say: we can only defeat their evil by refusing to let their atrocities shape our world view.

You Decide

  1. When you hear about brutal attacks like this, does it change the way you think about the world? Should it?
  2. Can violence ever be rational?

Activities

  1. ‘It is wisest and best to fix our attention on the beautiful and the good, and dwell as little as possible on the evil and the false.’ Do you agree with Richard Cecil? Discuss the quote as a class and vote on whether you agree.
  2. Research the current situation in Tunisia. Then write a letter to the British people from the perspective of a Tunisian, explaining your hopes and fears for your country.

Some People Say...

“Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time.”

Susan Sontag

What do you think?

Q & A

This is terrifying. There’s no way I’m ever going anywhere near Tunisia.
That’s a reasonable response, and indeed it may well be best to stay away from the country for now. Thousands of tourists are boarding emergency flights home and the UK Foreign Office warns travellers to the country to be vigilant against further attacks. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that most of Tunisia is generally very safe — these attacks are the exception rather than the norm.
How scared should I be of terrorism in general?
Terrorism is on the rise, and that’s worrying — France, Kuwait and Tunisia were all victims on Friday alone. But it is still very low down on the list of threats to your physical safety: it’s more sensible to worry about mundane things like fitness, infection and traffic accidents.

Word Watch

IS (so-called ‘Islamic State’)
A militant group which aims to establish a repressive ‘caliphate’ across the Middle East. Although it currently occupies large swathes of Syria and Iraq, it is not in fact a ‘state’; nor is it ‘Islamic’ in any way that most Muslims would recognise.
Arab Spring
In early 2011, a wave of popular protests erupted in Arab countries under authoritarian rule. Initially the uprisings were heralded as a victory for democracy, but many countries’ subsequent fortunes have been bleak. Syria, for instance, has descended into a horrendous civil war, while Egypt is once again under military rule.
Stable and popular
Tunisia was the country where the Arab Spring began. So far it is the only one to have established a secular constitution, elected a president and steered clear of both hardline Islamism and dictatorship.
Libya
Until 2011, Tunisia’s North African neighbour was ruled by a particularly ruthless tyrant called Muammar Gaddafi. He was toppled with the help of an international military alliance, but the country has since become divided between warring militias.

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