Enrica Sighinolfi: Citizens can help the world deal with acts of terror without giving into fear
We should all worry we're getting to used to terrorist attacks, she writes
Editor’s Note: Enrica Sighinolfi is a founding member of Opportunity Network, a company that facilitates global partnerships for CEOs and private investors, and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers, a network of city-based hubs that undertake local projects to improve their communities. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Wherever I go, terror seems to follow. I used to go jogging by Westminster Bridge when I lived in London, and my office was just a few blocks away from the World Trade Center when I lived in New York. I don’t know how many hundreds of times I have walked where terrorism took innocent lives. I also studied in Paris, just a few blocks away from the Bataclan and République, sites of the 2015 attacks that left over a hundred people dead and many more injured.
I live in Barcelona, and it was a typical mid-summer Thursday when I realized that a terror attack was taking place approximately 50 meters away from where I live. A place I call home under attack, again.
It took me five hours after the attack to make sure that all the people I know in Barcelona and their families were safe. I felt much calmer and in control this time, unlike when the Paris attacks occurred. On the one hand, I need to thank the managers of our company who took care of our team and kept calling everyone until we were sure we were all okay. But on the other hand, I’m concerned I’m getting used to this.
We all should worry that we’re getting too used to it. We can pretend that terrorism is far away, but it’s not. Terrorism can occur in our neighborhoods and sometimes attacks are completely unpredictable, even for the best intelligence bureaus. We cannot keep on ignoring this, and the sooner we are more prepared and aware of this, the sooner we can defeat it. Because we’re stronger than terror.
In most parts of Western Europe, until attacks like those in Paris and now Barcelona, we basically haven’t seen violence in our streets for 70 years and we haven’t expected it – which in some ways makes us a perfect target for terrorists.
Life feels back to normal today in Barcelona, but is it really? Every time I go back to Paris I think that I’m so lucky that I got to live there before it was as militarized as it is today, in the wake of the 2015 attacks. Will that happen here in Barcelona as well? If it does, is this actually a solution? Machiavelli used to say that you should never build a fortress. Many believe that fortresses protect from external and internal threats, but the reality is that for the former you need an army and for the latter you need consensus. A fortress won’t keep us safe.
I spent the last day texting and calling my many friends from all around the world and I received a lot of messages of solidarity also on social media. What fills my heart with hope and optimism is that I see a lot of private initiative to do something concrete not only for Barcelona, but also for Europe and the whole world. I am Italian, like some of the victims of this attack, and as I work to process how close I feel to this tragedy, it’s evident to me that we need to face terrorism collectively and internationally. It can’t be solved locally.
Governments and authorities are already doing their best to protect us. Living through a terrorist attack at home makes me realize that we can do something as private citizens as well, on top of donating blood or offering translations in hospitals. We need to build and share knowledge on this form of terrorism. It’s not just a matter of clarifying the difference between Islam and jihad, which of course is fundamental, but it’s also about answering basic questions, like what should we do in case of attack and after attacks.
During the attack and after, in our company chat app, people shared a lot of insights about how to stay safe during an attack. Later fellow WEF Global Shapers from all over the world, including other cities struck by terrorism, shared initiatives that they carried out in their communities after the attacks. All this was extremely useful and I feel we need to start gathering this knowledge and making it available to the public. The more we feel in control and useful, the more we can avoid panic and live our lives in peace.
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It is normal to be scared, but if we stop living our lives, they win this war. Every day is a battle, and we are all fighting it. After Paris I was scared of going to museums, concerts, clubs, or theaters for months, but I kept on doing so because I love art and music. I am scared of taking flights, but I can’t stop because I love traveling. This latest attack has made me scared of going home, but of course I’m going to do it anyway.