The above may seem like a cruel statement, but the reality it bears is hard to contest. From the Madrid train bombing of March 11th 2004 which left nearly 200 people dead and 2000 injured to the recent Nice attack, terrorist activity seems to be only on the rise, despite the state of emergency instated or the number of policemen and soldiers deployed. The names of those responsible ring in the collective European “public sphere” more than ever – Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and now ISIS, not to mention their perturbed supporters who act as lone wolves, attempting to inflict damage to their adoptive societies by any means necessary, using bombs, weapons, vehicles or axes. Violence and carnage have been unleashed on the once safe streets of civilized European nations, politically disempowering the moderates and giving rise to the harsh nativist and nationalist discourse of the populist right. What is to be done?
Despite the understandably warlike declarations of Western political leaders, the fact is that not much can be done in order to prevent such attacks, unless society submits to an Orwellian state apparatus committed to total surveillance. Paranoia takes over community life and hate crimes soar. A necessary debate between freedom and security ensues after every attack and historically, people have been more likely to choose safety rather than freedom, and I would not wager that we today have the political culture to go against such a trend. However, another path may yet be open, one that seems so inhuman and distant to our nature that it is almost other-worldy, imaginary or better put – dystopian.
In Brazil, a 1985 dystopian science-fiction film directed by Terry Gilliam, “Sam Lowry is working in a mind-numbing job and living in a small apartment, set in a consumer-driven world in which there is an over-reliance on machines.” Beyond this immediate familiarity, the civilized society presented in Brazil also has to deal with an active minority of mysterious “saboteurs” who, refusing to accept the way of things, often carry out terrorist attacks, bombings most of all. One such attack takes place in the very restaurant where our neurotic antihero and his mother are having dinner, causing a number of casualties and extended damage to the building. Shockingly, the staff of the restaurant promptly extended a portable dividing wall, with the section left unaffected from the blast on one side and the fiery hell on the other. The unharmed citizens thus continue their dinner at the respectable restaurant without even so much as a worried glance or a pause in their conversation, ignoring the flames and the pools of blood next to their tables.
Such a dark scenario may not be so far off now. Zakaria Fareed shows how the effects of terrorist attacks on the West have diminished over time. After 9/11 the financial markets collapsed and recovered after 2 months. The Madrid 2004 terror attack plunged the Spanish market in a collapse that was overcome within a month and after the London 2005 attacks, the British market was up and running at the usual speed in 24 hours. Terrorism in itself is an uncommon military tactic because it relies solely on the reaction it provokes from the spectator. If we simply are not frightened, terrorized, then the tactic is unsuccessful. Financial markets, in their increasing resistance to terror attacks, have proven that desensibilization is a cure to terrorism. In psychology, desensitization is defined as the diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulus after repeated exposure to it. And we have been exposed to terrorism time and time again.
According to the old theory of the development of terrorism, one has to be ignorant in order to turn to a radical form of religion, and ignorance is a product of a dysfunctional or totally absent education system. The 0-point causes are therefore societal and economic. Simply put, an individual whose convictions are freely founded through education and not forced upon him by the sheer strength of circumstance, such as violence or poverty, will not strap a suicide vest to his chest. A society that flourishes cannot birth terrorists.
However, this version of the story disappoints when applied to the recent attacks. Political analysts have repeatedly observed that the perpetrators are often born and raised in their adoptive states. Therefore they have no direct contact with terrorist organizations and they do not know the realities of the Middle-East and North Africa (MENA) region, being raised in a tolerant society that provided for their minimum health and educational needs. Despite their fortunate upbringing, the future terrorists feel they are not integrated in their European societies of residence, and act out their anger through violent acts, hiding behind the black flag of the Islamic State-DAESH. The root of terrorism is thus not religion.
Hannah Arendt conceived the term “banality of evil” upon referring to the behavior of Otto Adolf Eichmann, an Obersturmbannführer of the SS, once captured and put on trial. Shockingly, he displayed neither guilt nor hatred, claiming he was simply “doing his job”, proving an inability to think for himself. Eichmann was a “joiner” his entire life, in that he constantly joined organizations in order to define himself, and had difficulties thinking for himself without doing so. The banality of his evil stood in the fact that his actions were motivated by a sort of stupidity which was wholly unexceptional. The same can be said about terrorists. They are not evil masterminds who have plotted their attempts for decades, nor are they undercover religious fanatics anxious to get to their heavenly virgins. They are the misfits and outcasts, the confused and the identity-less who find solace in the vengeful rhetoric of terrorist organizations. This group of individuals represents the repository of terrorists into which a media-savy group such as ISIS has managed to tap.
All answers to terrorism are long-term. Meanwhile, a “banalization” of terrorism will disempower it completely on the short-term until education, social inclusion and technological advancements will cure humanity of the scourge of senseless violence.
Zakaria Fareed – The Post-American World
Hannah Arendt – Eichmann in Jerusalem