They shall not pass

By David Fernàndez (Photo: Ferran Forné)

Nightmares can make us feel as if we were living outside of time. It is not easy to write while still reeling from the emotional blow that has wounded this city, reeling from the hubris of nihilistic brutality, from the reminder of the oft-forgotten fact that we are all too fragile, from the political sniping of those who long for the return of a retropia, for a fortified past that is gone for good. It might even be preferable to show solidarity by remaining silent, to join together in a deafening, defiant silence, to resist alongside the victims as their pain slowly gives way to grieving and we can resume our lives together, albeit still shaken and traumatized. There are miserable days when words will not suffice, tragic times when we are forced to face the fact that the world can yet become an even worse place, as we offer up platitudes to remind ourselves of the truism that the refugees fleeing from their homes, those who our country still refuses to take in, are fleeing the very thing that those on the Rambla ran from yesterday.

Death, both here and elsewhere (and there must be no hierarchy of the dead), is crushingly irreversible, but the consequences of these deaths also threaten to spark disaster, and there is no room for delay if we are to prevent it before it engulfs us. This may be easier said than done in a society built on sand, a society that can be shaken to its core by a single blow, as if just one van could bring everything tumbling down. But even in this suffering, stricken city, it is worth remembering that the majority of the victims of Jihadi fundamentalism around the world are Muslims. Worth reminding ourselves that the world is a place populated by everyday violence, with outbreaks every day at different latitudes, that nowhere is unblemished by the scars of violence, and that we are in dire need of an International Union of Pain. Yesterday, 30 died in Maiduguri, and children were decapitated in Molai. Today, it was Barcelona. And a faulty diagnosis of the problem will only lead us to faulty solutions. As the Fundació per la Pau pointed out just yesterday, “violence, like peace, does not come about by chance or in a vacuum, but rather as a result.” That is, as a result of all the things that have been done, and not done, in the past. And now, there are things we must do, tirelessly, to turn this sad script on its head.

There are those who would maintain that Boko Haram, the destruction of Aleppo, the dead in Nice, the invasion of Iraq, the post-truth of Trump-Putin-Erdogan, the bombings in Madrid and the devastation of Falluja, that each of these phenomena can be viewed in isolation, those who believe that all these events are not intertwined with the globalization of fear and terror, with the wretched criminality of geopolitics, with the propping up of dictators and the unstoppable spread of inequality, poverty and corruption. With this view, they will find it impossible to make our shared world a better place. On this playing field of perversion, there is the danger that fear will get the better of us. Should that happen, Islamophobia and Jihadi radicalization will feed off of one another in a terrible downward spiral of mutual schismogenesis, tearing at the seams of our social cohesion, opening up an unacceptable gulf of segregation and unleashing recklessly destructive policies.

In politics, a fantasy can quickly devolve into an inferno. And the human condition itself is extreme in its ambiguity, capable of both the horrible and the sublime. There is no need to compete to see who can be the most brutal. Today’s fleeting awareness makes us paradoxically more resistant than we were before. We are now that much more conscious of all that we have to lose, and this is the time when, more than ever, we must fight to keep what remains, the things we have built together. This is the city that produced the Diari de la Pau in 1991, the place where demonstrators filled the streets to protest the illegal war that would leave Iraq in ruins, the Barcelona that proclaimed “We are Madrid” after the 2004 attacks, the city whose avenues overflowed in February for a march in solidarity with refugees, the neighborhoods whose residents speak 300 different native tongues, all together shaping the kaleidoscopic country we have long since become, a place of plurality, complexity and diversity. Without fear, or in spite of it, in the face of fear, solidarity sprouted up everywhere yesterday too: taxi drivers shut off their meters, doors flung open to take people in, neighbors came together to douse the flames of fear, every piece of hateful graffiti was painted over in rainbow colors, the (justified) workers’ strike at Eulen was suspended, we took pride in our public servants and the hospitals were overwhelmed with queues of donors. Together, the only way we can.

While I am no devotee of Winston Churchill, I would cite his words from 1941 when, referring to bombs that had rained down upon our city three years earlier, he wrote “I do not at all underrate the severity of the ordeal which lies before us; but I believe our countrymen will show themselves capable of standing up to it, like the brave men of Barcelona”. And I hope to God (although I am an atheist) that this will be true of us now. Even though I was naïve enough to think that the profiteers of suffering, the proponents of the shock doctrine, the opportunists angling for political gain and all the mediocre maneuvering, that all of this would take a bit longer than it has to slither to the surface. I am also even more convinced than I was yesterday of the need for politicians to step down when the time comes, not to mention some journalists (whom there is no need to single out by name, as they have already more than betrayed themselves with their own brutal mediocrity).

There is still much to do in the struggle to overcome our impotence in the face of avoidable suffering. But if we give up, if we stop believing in ourselves, if we are weakened, if we turn on one another, if we surrender, if we no longer fight for a future of peace, cooperation and justice, then they have won. Let’s not let that happen. Our International of Pain, and of hope, must be built on both sides of the Mediterranean, and it must be constantly built and rebuilt in every neighborhood, every café and every residents association. Now, more than ever, we have to transcend borders and barriers to feel our commonality with an anti-fascist in Charlottesville, a European Muslim in a banlieue, a Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto, an Egyptian Coptic Christian, a Kurdish woman resistance fighter in Kobane, a Syrian exile who doesn’t know when she will return home. This world still has space for all possible worlds, except for those that would deny all the others. Let’s make this city our refuge against the onslaught of fear. Standing defiantly, bearing the open wounds of today and the scars that will remain tomorrow, but still standing. Let them do what they will, but they shall not pass. None of them. Never again. Not here, or anywhere else. Not against anyone.