The Bastille Day attack in Nice was a pointed terrorist assault on the most solemn day of secular France's national calendar. A madman at the wheel of a lorry ploughed through celebratory crowds, killing more than 80 people, among them children, and injuring hundreds. The horror of that statistic was amplified by the use of an unremarkable mode of transport to wreak havoc. In Paris last November, gunmen and suicide bombers left 130 people dead after attacking a concert hall, a major stadium and restaurants. In contrast, the Nice outrage showed just how easily an object of everyday use could be turned into a lethal weapon against soft and unsuspecting targets.
Terrorist use of vehicles as ramming weapons has been seen for years in Israel and has also surfaced in the United Kingdom and Canada. When explosives and guns are hard to get past borders, as in Israel, there is a danger that terrorists will resort to ubiquitous machines to inflict harm. The message is that no one should take safety for granted anywhere, that no government can fully protect its citizens against perverted individuals who are determined to kill the innocent. By striking at the heart of a nation, the way the Nice lorry driver did, terrorists rob peaceful citizens of a minimum faith in the physical security that civilised life ought to provide. In its place, they plant fear and suspicion.
It is this challenge that France will have to face down in the aftermath of the Nice attack. The insidious spread of individuals turning to terror, whether they act alone or in groups, will need to be monitored and blocked. The extension of a state of emergency declared after the Paris attack allows the French authorities to use every resource of the law to deal with the threat within. Cooperation with countries that face similar threats - in the Middle East, Europe, the Americas and Asia - must complement domestic efforts. The world has come together to condemn the Nice attack. Now, it must work together in practical ways to prevent the next attack, in France and elsewhere.
At the end of the day, however, each country has to deal with terrorism in a way that is consonant with a national character produced by lived traditions. The French Revolution, encapsulated in the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789, changed history by grounding the future in the hard-won principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. Whatever the terrorists' plans for further assaults, they must not be allowed to prevail ideologically. The French must stay true to their ideals - to deny fiends the opportunity to push history backwards. Turning away from the world, or victimising Muslim immigrants, most of whom are peace-loving bystanders in a tragedy beyond their control, would betray what it means to be French.