How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared. — Salman Rushdie
It is a complicated history, one that stretches back to before the outbreak of the first World War. In seeking a genesis of terrorism, in seeking to understand what drives terror, the West must admit that it is partially responsible for its genesis. We are bound up in a network of power relations that are now turning against our citizens. We are reaping what we have sown. We have sown fear, we have sown war, we have sown desperation. We reap what we sow. How do we relate to this history and to modern terrorism that is now found in the streets of Madrid, London and Paris, as well as many other places? What, if anything, can the EU do about terror?
Even though we reap what we sow does not justify the violence now inflicted; nothing justifies violence, but it does make it more understand, which in many ways can make it more insidious. Terrorism is extremism, but there is a logic and a rationality to actions taken in its name. These actions make sense in the history and the narratives that extremists live in. Within their moral space, terrorists understand themselves in a clear way. In order to uproot contemporary terrorism, these narrative and theological roots must be transformed.
It is at this level that the EU can influence the response to terrorism. When acts of terror are perpetrated, there is a nationalistic or ideological response: we are in the right, they are in the wrong. This does no justice to the complexity of the situation ((in no way am I condoning violence)). The EU is a narrative. It is an ideology, a symbol that exists among the dreamers of this continent. It bring together many different languages, different ideologies, religions, cultures and histories. After centuries of fighting, Europe is at peace (relatively speaking). It is this peace and this place of ideological dialogue that can respond deeply to the threat of terror.
Through the platform and apparatus of the EU, the member states can relate to their own history of violence, of colonisation, of terror. They have a space where they can dialogue both with each other but also with the people they have hurt. Learning from their histories and these dialogues, they can engage in a ideological critique of contemporary terror and work to establish structures that prevent terror and war. What are these? The very ones that have trickled through Europe and led to the creation of the European Community: unity in diversity, principles of solidarity and subsidiarity and love for our neighbours. At the nation-state level, this could not happen, or only happen with difficulty, since nation-states would have to overcome their own histories on their own. And if there is something that states, as individuals, do not like to do, it is to admit that they were wrong.
To echo the words of another philosopher, Sarah Borden, in relating to terror, “There is [the] danger in calling any particular person evil. In calling someone ‘evil,’ we run the risk of painting her as fully irrational, without reason or cause for her actions, as ‘other’ than us. In so doing, we too easily allow ourselves the luxury of not asking why our enemy hates us, whether we have done something to wrong another, or whether we ourselves have also sinned.” At the level of European dialogue, these questions can be asked and the very roots of terror can begin to be untangled.