Here and There

Written on November 17, 2015 by Susana Torres Prieto in Arts & Cultures & Societies

susanaBy Susana Torres Prieto, Professor of Humanities at IE University and IE Business School.

When I was a girl, the puppets of Sesame Street showed the difference between here and there, up and down, far and near. The victims of Paris of an ill-fated Friday 13 should make us question, at least, the difference between here and there, and far and near.

A war might be fought there, and it is suffered here, someone might feel humiliated here, and becomes a terrorist there, someone has to leave his house there, and becomes a refugee here. We have got used to hear about globalization, for better or for worse, often as a phenomenon describing a new era of communications or a new era of trade and markets, a step beyond.

Globalized are certain logos, and some football teams, but we have not got used to the possibility that their problems are our problems, that what happens there is actually also happening here.

Marx did not like to think in terms of nations. He believed a nation was just another byproduct of an oppressive bourgeois superstructure that made men fight for ideals that went against their natural rights and rightful claims, and thus perpetuated wars fought for the wrong reasons. In our current world, there seem to be less room for nations –despite being one of the reasons why some people still go to war, as the examples of ex-Yugoslavia or Sudan have shown –and more space for supra-national structures. Even terrorism has become a global issue a supra-national structure, and not a national one, and the fact that one can be quietly having dinner in Paris or singing along in a rock concert and be randomly killed theoretically because of something that is happening there, that is something that we have not quite got used to yet. Perpetrating anonymous attacks on civil populations has always been one of the main characteristics of any war, any time. It is something that has to be taken for granted in a war, that sooner or later you can be killed just for living in a certain place, wearing a certain uniform, having a certain passport. It is one of the cruelest dramas of wars. Terrorism has sometimes shared with wars the fact that the attack is not directed ad personam, but at whole populations, indiscriminately, as both ETA and the IRA reminded us from time to time. The fact that a few young men, according to witnesses dressed like everyone else, without accent, ‘enfants de France’, as an expert described them in France24, can open fire with a Kalashnikov looking to their victims’ eyes, with his face uncovered and kill indiscriminately as if he were on a battlefield, is also going a step beyond. It is not the anonymous bomb, or the shooting ad personam, it is a combination of both, and for that reason much more dangerous.

The utter shock whenever something like what has just happened in Paris derives in part from that fact that it is not expected. Ordinary citizens in Europe and the US are not aware of having declared war to anybody, on any nation. I suspect that the people who prepare and perform such attacks do actually think that they are at war, and if the attacks cannot take place there, then they would have to take place here, which is where their enemy lives. If it is later confirmed, as it was initially suspected, that the killers are not from there, but also from here, then the situation becomes even more complex for most to understand, and dangerous for any government to handle, because unlike in wars, where attacks can be directed at a place where the enemies’ army is concentrated, this army seems to be a ghostly one, is hardly seen, inapprehensible, dispersed. Capturing or killing a particular leader will not force a truce. The conundrum is how to fight a war as if one was fighting a specific terrorist group, because the differences between means and ends of terrorism and war are enormous. We think war is there, and terrorism here. It would be interesting to know whether that premise is shared by all parts in conflict.


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