Where Europe and the Mid­dle East meet

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Ter­ror­ism is a phe­nom­e­non with which Europe is all too fa­mil­iar. Con­sider World War I. The prox­i­mate cause of the con­flict was an act of ter­ror­ism – the as­sas­si­na­tion of Arch­duke Franz Fer­di­nand in Sara­jevo. Con­sider the year 1972, when, in Mu­nich, Black Septem­ber, a sec­u­lar Pales­tinian mil­i­tant group, killed mem­bers of the Is­raeli Olympic team. That same year was also among the blood­i­est of the Trou­bles of North­ern Ire­land. The sit­u­a­tion was so bad that then-U.S. Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon asked the United Na­tions “to com­bat the in­hu­man wave of ter­ror­ism that has been loosed on the world.”

The U.N. wasn’t able to do much. Just 13 years later, ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions car­ried out mul­ti­ple at­tacks on civil­ian tar­gets: TWA Flight 847, an Ital­ian cruise ship, air­ports in Vi­enna and in Rome. In 1986, the Libyan gov­ern­ment, led by Moam­mar Gad­hafi, spon­sored an at­tack at a club in West Berlin – to which the U.S. re­sponded with airstrikes. Ron­ald Rea­gan said 1986 was the year “the world, at long last, came to grips with the plague of ter­ror­ism.” Two years later was the Locker­bie bomb­ing.

The times we live in are not spe­cial. Ter­ror­ism has long been a part of Euro­pean life.

In fact, more peo­ple died from ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the 1970s and 1980s than in any re­cent decade. But, no­tably, in the 1990s and 2000s, ter­ror­ism-re­lated fa­tal­i­ties in west­ern Europe de­creased sub­stan­tially. It’s hard to know for sure why this was so. Europe wasn’t any more peace­ful in the 1990s than in the pre­vi­ous decades, as the Balkan wars made abun­dantly clear. Per­haps the end of the Cold War in­di­rectly had an ef­fect.

What­ever the rea­son for their re­mis­sion, ca­su­al­ties have since risen dra­mat­i­cally, es­pe­cially in the past ten years. There was a lull be­fore the re­lapse; the United States bore the brunt of the Is­lamic world’s at­ten­tion after 9/11. But when the rev­o­lu­tions al-Qaida hoped to in­cite failed to launch, Is­lamists found new tar­gets in west­ern Europe. Partly, this is be­cause of the in­flux of Mus­lim im­mi­grants, some of whom strug­gled to in­te­grate to the coun­tries to which they mi­grated. Euro­peans con­se­quently be­came more na­tion­al­is­tic, mak­ing Mus­lims the ob­ject of their re­sent­ment. Is­lamists saw this as a ma­jor op­por­tu­nity for re­cruit­ment.

The threat posed by Is­lamist ter­ror­ism is un­de­ni­able, but the at­ten­tion it re­ceives ex­ceeds its sig­nif­i­cance. Tech­nol­ogy is cer­tainly a fac­tor in this re­gard. In the 1970s,

TV jour­nal­ism changed the way we ex­pe­ri­enced war. War has al­ways been bru­tal and un­spar­ing, but see­ing it made it real in ways it had not been be­fore. The 24-hour news cy­cle sim­i­larly mag­ni­fies ter­ror­ism. 9/11 was shock­ing by any mea­sure, but that an en­tire na­tion watched the Twin Tow­ers fall in real time per­son­alised the at­tack in pre­vi­ously un­known ways. With the rise of so­cial me­dia and the ad­vance­ment of smart­phone tech­nol­ogy, vir­tu­ally any­one is able to doc­u­ment the hor­rors of an at­tack, and ev­ery group that uses ter­ror­ism has that much larger a plat­form to share its grisly acts. How much more grisly and ef­fec­tive might the IRA or ETA have been if they had been able to use YouTube and Twit­ter?

Other fac­tors abound. Some may ar­gue that the re­li­gious mo­ti­va­tions of Is­lamist ter­ror­ism add to its bar­bar­ity, but that misses the point. Ter­ror­ism is a tac­tic, and those who em­ploy it are nec­es­sar­ily de­voted to their causes. Some may ar­gue that Is­lamist ter­ror­ism is tan­ta­mount to a for­eign at­tack and, as such, can­not be com­pared to do­mes­tic af­fairs such as Ir­ish civil un­rest or Basque sep­a­ratism. But civil­ians die ei­ther way. At some point, the dis­tinc­tion among the va­ri­etals of ter­ror­ism isn’t help­ful. At some point, ter­ror­ism is just ter­ror­ism. Overem­pha­sis­ing its im­pact is what jus­ti­fies its em­ploy­ment.

What hap­pened in Spain two weeks ago, how­ever, is not just about trends in ter­ror­ism on the Euro­pean con­ti­nent. The at­tacks in Barcelona and Cam­brils did not just oc­cur in Spain. They oc­curred in Cat­alo­nia, a re­gion of Spain that may not be a re­gion of Spain for much longer. Na­tion­al­ism has been ris­ing not just in Cat­alo­nia but through­out Europe, ac­cel­er­ated by the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis. But na­tion­al­ism is par­tic­u­larly pro­nounced, even re­silient, in Cat­alo­nia. All at­tacks mat­ter. But that the Span­ish at­tacks oc­curred where they did and when they did, mat­ters geopo­lit­i­cally.

Months ago, the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment an­nounced plans to hold an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum on Oc­to­ber 1 against the ex­pressed wishes of the Span­ish gov­ern­ment in Madrid. This will be the sec­ond such ref­er­en­dum in three years. The first passed with more than 80% sup­port, but less than half the pop­u­la­tion voted. Var­i­ous opin­ion polls show that if this ref­er­en­dum does in­deed go to a vote, it prom­ises to be a close

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