After Nice horror, I fear hatred

Story highlights

  • At least 84 people were killed in an attack in Nice on Thursday
  • Cécile Alduy: We have nothing to fear but fear itself. And hatred, from all sides

Cécile Alduy is professor of French literature and culture and director of the French and Italian Department at Stanford University. The views expressed are her own.

(CNN)Sickened. Disgusted. Outraged. Already I can sense that France is no longer struck simply with shock and grief by the horror that unfolded in Nice on Thursday night, as was the case after the attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis last November. This time, after being hit yet again by hatred so absolute and deadly that it defies the imagination, the collective feeling -- at least what I am hearing and reading -- is turning to anger.

France is sick of grieving. That's bad news on top of bad news.
Even before the apocalyptical scene of that gigantic white truck rushing purposefully into the crowd heading back from the Bastille Day fireworks along Nice's coast, French society was already on edge.
    This spring, demonstrations against a proposed new labor law reform bill were repeatedly hijacked by hundreds of anarchists intent on clashing with the police and smashing windows. Brutality among overwrought officers on high alert increased. Add to this unprecedented flooding, soccer hooligans clashing, weeklong strikes in transportation, and even garbage collection problems, and you have a population close to snapping. The Euro competition's cheers barely made a dent in the sense of exasperation and exhaustion.
    And now this.
    A lit match thrown at a combustible society that feels on the verge of imploding.
    In the days to come, we will learn exactly how many children were run over by a mad driver from hell, their eyes still gleaming with amazement at the fireworks they had just admired. The hurt will deepen, and become, possibly, even more unbearable than it feels now.
    Why? Why now? Why Nice? Why us?
    We can already start to answer these nagging questions. Notice the cynical symbolism of the chosen date -- July 14, France's national holiday. It commemorates the French Revolution of 1789: the birth of democracy, the Declaration of Human Rights, Enlightenment ideals of a secular society of equal men freed from the grip of religion by the power of Reason.
    To destroy your enemy, you need to destroy their spirits, their icons, the images of themselves that help them stand against adversity. The terrorist did not just attack "on" July 14: it targeted Bastille Day itself. The goal was to wound physically the body of the nation and destroy symbolically the values around which French people gather every year regardless of origin, color, class, age or religion. To forbid us to ever get together again carefree and happy on that date. To take control over and mark with death our national narrative: to ruin that day for years to come.
    Why Nice? It's a cosmopolitan city, a tourist haven where Australians, Brits, Americans, Lebanese, Italians and many more have enjoyed the Riviera's pleasant nights -- how better to hurt even beyond France?
    But it is also a city which is plagued by ethnic divisions, surrounded by territory rife with local cells of jihadist recruiters and would-be martyrs keen on joining ISIS in Syria, and the capital of a region where the far-right National Front's xenophobic, anti-immigration rhetoric has reaped some of its best electoral scores in recent years. It was also a city easier to target on a day when security forces were concentrated in Paris for the Bastille Day military parade, and offered a staged mockery of the show of muscle, steel and strength displayed twelve hours before on the Champs-Elysées.
    But knowing the attacks were a performance of power and a statement of hatred of Western values will not quiet our hearts. These untimely, gratuitous deaths can never make sense. We will be haunted by the children and families splattered on the asphalt. We will hope they died raptured in the beauty of the fireworks, unaware, innocent, peaceful. But we know they did not. The firecrackers became gunshots. Their world of simple pleasures turned into hell and nonsense.
    And #JesuisNice or other hashtags won't do it. France is sick of commemorations and condemnations. Sick of the ritual of cringing fear and dramatic headlines. Enraged with its powerlessness, it might be tempted by a political outlet -- a surge in the National Front vote come next year's election. Or something worse.
    On May 24, Patrick Calvar, the head of the counterterrorism intelligence agency, was reported to have warned that the next threat was interethnic clashes between far right radicalized groups taking matters in their own hands and Muslims. "One or two more terrorist attacks," he reportedly warned, and the confrontation between the two sides is "inevitable."
    We have nothing to fear but fear itself. And hatred, from all sides.