After the devastating attacks in Madrid, security measures are feverishly being tightened up: plain clothes anti-terrorism teams are patrolling the London Underground; the anti- terrorism “Vigipirate” plan in France has been declared on red alert; armed Cabinieri are policing motorists across Italy; and Germany has called for an emergency meeting of EU interior ministers to assess the security situation. However, an attack is not going to be thwarted by a tank in a station, as the German interior minister Schily rightly pointed out. The hectic gung-ho activity that has followed the deaths in Madrid might represent these states’ desire to prove their power to respond. Terrorism experts unanimously assert, however, that future attacks on so-called “weak spots” like stations or shopping centres are not going to be averted by intervention alone.
“You love life but we love death”
Instead of increasing controls and tightening up the law, the underlying causes of terrorism need to be addressed. What is it that drives someone to kill indiscriminately as many innocent people as possible? What makes someone forge a blood-drenched symbol of horror on to history? “You love life but we love death” said Madrid’s supposed attackers in the confession videotape. How does someone reach such depths of nihilism? Religion, even in its fundamentalist interpretation, still contains hope. The reverence of death itself arises, however, from a deeply rooted fatalism whose causes can only be total frustration, utter hopelessness.
Mohammed Atta, one of the pilots of death on September 11th, was involved in development politics in Germany before he decided to blow up an aeroplane and with it a symbol of Western capitalism and to take thousands of people’s lives along with his own. It was the lost hope for justice, the recognition of the hypocrisy of the West that made a murderer out of Atta. We Europeans deplore civil war and yet we sell weapons to the rest of the world. We claim to be fighting poverty and yet we block agricultural imports from the South. We insist on our concern for human rights and yet the slightest business gain distracts us from demanding that they are respected. We preach equality and yet, in practice, we systematically exclude whole populations from our societies. We talk about our great, humanistic ideals and yet we only assert our own interests.
Terrorism: the boomerang of history
According to the confession video found in Madrid, “If you don’t put an end to your injustice, the blood will flow.” Europe has exported terror and suffering to the rest of the world for centuries and has so far suffered no loss as a result of its attitude, so full of arrogance and so lacking in insight. From the cruelty of colonialism to the frivolous way that the responsibility for global environmental damage is dodged and made into the burden of the poor, the West has consistently shown that it is only interested in short term, selfish gain. Terrorism is creeping up on the Europeans in the form of Islamic fundamentalism inspired by hatred. And now we have to decide whether we want to barricade ourselves in a fortress – a fortress which will still be vulnerable to attack no matter how great an array of police and forces of law we employ. Or do we genuinely want to try to increase the justice on our planet within a framework of global structural policy and in so doing rob terrorism of its feeding ground? Are we ready to accept that we might have to sacrifice some of our prosperity in favour of a more just distribution?