PARIS — At first, there is that horrific sensation like something pushing on your chest with the tears that swell as we imagine the parents trying to reach their children and nobody answering on the other end of the line where a massacre has been committed. Then, there is the anger that becomes a feeling of powerlessness in the knowledge that some monsters, somewhere, will rejoice at this act of evil. But once emotions have passed, after the ceremonies and the minutes of silence, there will remain our collective duty to ask ourselves what we can do.
Nobody can claim they can stop all attacks. In France, intelligence services have learned a lot and the current state of emergency has given them the means to move faster. But the tragedy in Manchester forces us to face the same standing truth.
First, as the investigations on the people close to the suicide bomber Salman Abedi has shown, Libya is now a deadly peril for Europe. The French military has been warning for months that a significant number of senior ISIS members fleeing the allied offensive on Mosul and Raqqa were heading toward Libya, via Turkey. Abedi himself traveled through Turkey. Didier François, a French reporter in the region, recently told radio station Europe 1, "We're evidently witnessing a transfer in know-how, coming out of Iraq and Syria." This new flashpoint allows future commandos to mingle with the flow of desperate migrants thrown onto the Mediterranean by human traffickers.
Second, the history of our own jihadists in France shows that like Salman Abedi, a large part of them were born on European soil and that they've learned to hate who we are in our very own schools. And yet, at no time was this hate met with any kind of appropriate response. What can you say about a young man who attempts to go to Syria twice and who three judges decided to release because he promised that, of course, he'd abandoned his plans and go look for a job? Turns out this young man eventually slit the throat of an 86-year-old priest last July in a small town northwest of Paris. It seems some magistrates still haven't grasped the threat our police officers and soldiers are battling against.
Multiculturalism won't save us from their hatred
But more broadly, what we're lacking is not another piece of anti-terror legislation but an intellectual and moral rearmament of our institutions, of every citizen regardless of their origin or religion, so we can all put up a united front against this hatred.
Finally, something we'll never repeat often enough and that each attack, be it in Britain, Sweden or Germany, reminds us is that multiculturalism won't save us from their hatred. A jihadist who blows himself up in the middle of a group of teenage girls after a concert is not protesting against some form of discrimination. The same goes for the someone who, in cold blood, shoots children at point-blank range because they're Jewish as happened in 2012 in the southern French city of Toulouse. And yet Swiss-born intellectual Tariq Ramadan would write, one week later that the attacker, Mohamed Merah, was "a victim of a system that had already sentenced him."
The jihadist that struck in Manchester was living in a society that tolerates the full veil and that sees the French brand of secularism, laïcité, as incomprehensible. We can try and understand the multiple factors that fuel the frustrations of young men out for revenge. Still, should we go as far as the new French president Emmanuel Macron, who, in 2015, was speaking about the "breeding-ground" that favors such acts and what part might be "our responsibility"? Without denying that there is discrimination, should we really be convincing young people in this country that their failures can solely be explained by the fact that they're being mistreated by the institutions? If there's any breeding-ground that favors terror attacks, you need look no further.
We must, of course, become aware of our own flaws and gaps. We must stop believing we can get away with destabilizing countries and entire regions of the world for the sake of muddled interests. We must stop thinking it is inconsequential to let rich allies infiltrate our neighborhoods, as well as entire regions of Africa, with a fundamentalism and totalitarian brand of Islam. We must stop considering soldiers pervaded with ideology as lost and neglected children. We must stop reducing our civilizational model to its most sordid dimension and then be surprised that it doesn't interest our youth, destined to look elsewhere for motivations to live and causes to die for. We must, finally, stop telling ourselves every time that we need to "get used" to terrorism, which sounds like the worst kind of fatalism.
In short, we must stop lying to ourselves. To feed our reflections and our choices, we must always bear in mind, always remember, that our priority is to protect our children and see them grow up in a world where they won't have to fear that the child sitting next to them at school might wind up killing them one day.
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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