One of the best things about the European Union was that a single visa could whizz you through all the countries in Europe. (UK stood apart, but it was considered only a matter of time before the situation changed...or so we thought).
The first time anyone of us (from a far more difficult neighbourhood) went through the European continent, by road, it was like a magical dream. For us, it was unbelievable at what goodwill and political determination could achieve! Once warring countries, long term enemies, France and Germany, for example, could be visited just by crossing over an invisible line. It took years to hammer out, but Schengen represented an article of faith, of a common goal, of shared values. The power of peace.
Not only was it about the ease of travel, but it also gave hope to the rest of the world, that borders could melt away, once governments decide. How wonderful, we have often thought, if a single document could whizz you through India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, for instance. (Now that we are working on a Partition museum in India, that thought occurs to me many times over...Of course, countries can have their borders, their identities and their separate governments, but ease of travel, of doing business would increase hundredfold).
Alas, the attack on the helpless citizens of France by Daesh (we should not dignify it by the term "Islamic State") has begun to break down that easy confidence between countries. Already, some concerns about porous borders had begun to be raised by the influx of the Syrian refugees, which threaten to engulf some of the smaller countries. There are increasingly resentful murmurings on whether the open door policy practiced by Germany can really be adapted by other countries.
In the UK too the whole question of remaining within the European Union is now being discussed with fresh fervour.
But of course the saddest fallout from all of this will be if Schengen, which allowed non Europeans simple access with a single visa, will be withdrawn or even modified. And perhaps the argument for it to change is becoming stronger. We all know of cases where individuals actually meant to travel to country X, but they applied for a visa to country Y within the European Union, only because it was thought to be easier to get.
Yes, innocently applied for visas make no difference, but the problem with the current situation is that the differentiation between us and the terrorists in the way we look or behave is becoming more and more difficult to spot. Most of the attackers in the recent carnage in Paris were considered "normal" in their behaviour (even the fact that some of them were on drugs was not suspicious! - because that can be considered "normal" and "unislamic"). Thus there is little for authorities to go by.
One way these mercenary, merciless killers can be stopped, alas, is at the border by an alert security force. And so, many are wondering how soon it will be before countries begin insisting on country-specific visas. That might prevent terrorists from Belgium planning a full scale attack on France, without any fear of border control.
In search of security, we might have to set the clock back, to a pre-Schengen time.