Three Reactions To Terrorism
It’s impossible not to comment on this today, as I have managed to be in the three main centres of terrorism most of this summer, London, Paris and Barcelona, and have seen distinct reactions to events.
London’s attacks have felt like part of a long ongoing argument with dissenters that stretches back far into the past, long before the murder of Lee Rigby, to IRA bombings and lone wolf attackers like the Brixton/Soho bomber. The police are used to dealing with such events, and all efforts are made to minimise disruption, and effectively make the attacks invisible. This is partly expedience – the city needs to run smoothly – but also ideological, to deny attackers their most fervent hope, that international attitudes will be damaged.
That’s not to say they aren’t – tourism always drops in the wake of an attack – but although it seems that such acts have been stepped up they are clearly diminishing in effect, reducing down from sophisticated operations like the 9/11 attacks to gas bottles, swords and hired vehicles. As for being orchestrated as a concerted effort they seem exactly the opposite, mostly effected by social misfits; young indoctrinated North Africans of limited intellect. That’s not a war, it’s a lethal form of disgruntlement that rolls on day after day (yesterday police were attacked outside Buckingham Palace by a man wielding a 4 foot sword). British condemnation of the perpetrators and support for victims is unequivocal from all communities.
In France the lines are harder and more divisive. Anyone who has been to Northern parts of Paris has seen the shocking racial segregation that exists in that society. Traditionally the police and security forces have not shared information in a cohesive way, and methods of tracking dissent have been more fractured, although I’ve read that this has now been improved. Public reaction has been different, too. The public largely express their solidarity through social media by sharing images, notably the Peace for Paris symbol. Conflicted Parisiennes are more undecided whether to ignore or commemorate, so a middle ground appears to be found.
In the more fervently Catholic Spain, the reaction is – as always with all forms of disruption here – an outpouring. The Spanish (and especially Catalonians) fill the streets any number of times during an average year in protest or celebration, but last night’s commemorative procession was extraordinary on any level. King Felipe VI, the Spanish PM and the Catalonian president lead half a million people along the Ramblas with signs that read; No Tinc Por – I am not afraid.
The Spanish Police had been well trained for attacks. Those with longer memories recalled the Eta bombs, real or imagined (ETA had been wrongly blamed for the Madrid train bombings, which were Arabic in origin). When the Barcelona attack had happened, the police were at the scene within 3 minutes. All metro and bus travel was made free, and streets were instantly cleared. The response was utterly unequivocal and fast.
The day after the attack, when the Ramblas had instantly become a site of pilgrimage, a neo-Nazi group (tiny, about 30 I was told) attempted to use the attack to score points and was booed and shoved off the Ramblas by pedestrians. Instead of posting shots of the tribute site, those on social media published pictures of cats at #gato to ridicule and deny the bombers any sense of achievement. When I visited the site itself, nobody took photos out of respect for the dead. It’s the first time I’ve seen a large crowd not using their mobiles.
Three sites, three reactions. The attacks will doubtless continue, with so-called ISIS indoctrinating children. But in Spain this war has been going on since the year 711. Other countries have only lately been targeted. The desire for dominant ideologies runs deep.