Last Friday, our Sunday for Muslims, a devout disciple of the Prophet got on the Amsterdam-Paris TGV at Bruxelles, armed with enough artillery in his arsenal to kill scores of passengers. He chose the last carriage – only one connecting door to watch – and went to the toilet to check out his kalashnikov, its nine loaded cartridges and his trusty cutter. His luck failed him from the beginning. Someone noticed the gun and even heard metallic clicks from behind the toilet door. But above all he was unlucky to be in the same carriage as several incredibly brave men who risked their lives and suffered gunshot and razor-blade wounds while overpowering the terrorist before he could kill anyone.
As with other attempted and even successful massacres, we will forget the details, including yesterday’s French presidential honors to the Americans, British and French heroes, now bearers of our highest distinction, Napoleon’s Légion d’Honneur. But people, the Press and politicians are thanking our lucky stars that after Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish Kosher deli in January, we got off so “lightly”. Luck (some would say God), this time, was on our side.
Curious phenomenon, luck. How many of the train passengers are wondering “What if ?” What if their ticket had put them in that carriage rather than one of the others where they remained totally unaware of the drama being played out at the back of the train ? What if those courageous Americans and the other brave men had not been present, or preferred to protect themselves rather than their fellow-passengers ? What if the terrorist had been able to shoot them before being knocked to the floor and disarmed ? Others, of course, will not talk of their luck, but of God’s protection. Some will associate their survival with all sorts of imagined causes, including their Miraculous and St Christopher medals or the novena they made last week to Saint Whatshername.
The more serious question, of course, is the unanswerable one : how to ensure protection from murderous religious fanatics in trains (although in this case the gunman is claiming he had no such intentions, but wanted to use the arms he had found in a park (!), just to rob his fellow-passengers). Spanish Railways, after the Madrid massacre, have set up surveillance for international trains similar to that practised in airports. It is possible that this will become common practice, but inconceivable that such measures would be feasible for suburban trains. Believers will continue – in spite of their frequent disappointment – to proclaim “In God we Trust”. Fatalists will content themselves with “que serà, serà”. The rest of us will hopefully be inspired not just to admire but to emulate the exemplary altruism of the TGV heroes and Their Great Valor.