We cannot start this post without condemning the terrible attacks in Brussels that took place this week, honoring the victims and showing support for the families, friends and the people of Brussels. Because we lived in Brussels for some time, our sentiments are even stronger. It is a city that takes in so many strangers. We've frequently traveled through its airport. And now, we see it devastated by terror.
Honestly, it's not easy to reflect in such dark times. There have been several brutal and repugnant attacks on Europe by jihadist terrorists in recent months, and countless more on the Arab world. Meanwhile, a refugees crisis takes place at the doors to a continent governed by frivolous institutions, that perceive human beings as merchandise or mere numbers. But to act, we must first think. It's not too late. It's never too late to respond to the tragedy we're facing with the strongest weapon we have: democracy and human rights.
The title of the post is taken from a poem by Celso Emilio Ferreiro, a Galician poet jailed by Franco's regime. "The hearts of men looking outwards are also made of stone," he wrote. The harshness of this verse is a reminder of the indifference, fanaticism, and alienation that lay the foundation for totalitarianism. Meanwhile, certain ideological constructions feed fears and prejudices in a way that justifies brutality.
Refugees are often regarded as less than equals; they are often not seen as citizens who deserve equal rights, but as people who have to be helped -- preferably from a distance.
ISIS has been built on a fascist taste for violence, and an aesthetic of terror that feeds on people's pain. The atrocities it has committed have terrorized people in Europe as well as in Syria and Iraq. Therefore, there is something that connects us with people who suffer and flee from those wars -- which often seem distant. We're part of the same human race and we can, and should, show solidarity. Although some often portray us as separate peoples, our struggle is the same. The struggle against totalitarianism, wherever it comes from, no matter what shape it takes, is a common battle.
It is true that the situation in Europe is distressing. The extreme right continues to spread its racism, offering more totalitarianism against terror. Meanwhile, European institutions are accepting proposals -- as we have seen in the EU-Turkey agreement -- in which Europe betrays itself.
In the face of these problems, European democrats should be courageous and efficient. We cannot underestimate the fear that a large part of the European population feels in the face of terrorism. We cannot treat it as insignificant or trivialize it. The media propaganda and recent events together create an ongoing state of emergency. This may justify reducing liberties in Europe and allowing imperialist interventions from the West. In this sense, we need to remember the words of Tony Blair, who recognized that the invasion of Iraq could have had a direct effect on the rise of ISIS, hence challenging the imperial logic that bombs can stop bombs.
At the same time, liberal humanitarianism, as Daniel Bensaid said, is based on "a sinister game of mirrors; the depoliticization of conflict creates in turn creates a depoliticization of the humanitarian victim. Not recognized as a political actor, the victim is reduced to the passive nakedness of suffering and martyred bodies."
Refugees are often regarded as less than equals; they are often not seen as citizens who deserve equal rights, but as people who have to be helped -- preferably from a distance. Many people feel that to limit the costs, the crisis should be kept at a distance. As if preventing the refugees from coming into Europe means guaranteeing our own security. As if ISIS had anything to do with the refugees, when the reality is that ISIS attacks both Muslims who flee the jihadist dystopia and Europe's citizenry.
It's never too late to respond to the tragedy we're facing with the strongest weapon we have: democracy and human rights.
After the attacks, Twitter hashtags such as #StopIslam or #TerroristsWelcome were among the most popular in Spain. This demonstrates how some try to use terror and totalitarianism to feed hatred, stigmatize parts of our society, and fuel Islamophobia. As Ángeles Ramírez reminded us in a recent article in the magazine Viento Sur (South Wind) titled The Construction of the 'Muslim Problem': Radicalization, Islam and Poverty, "it serves no purpose to demonstrate that jihadists are not mostly poor or have low levels of formal education or are immigrants. Or that without a doubt, the percentage of high school teachers or doctors among people fleeing from these communities is greater than that of jihadists or even of Salafists. Today, no one would say that these communities are breeding grounds for high school teachers." We cannot link poverty and terrorism, or else we risk stigmatizing the underprivileged and the most oppressed. We have to clearly remember that people always end up paying the price for wars.
Our duty is to build a democratic movement against terror and against totalitarianism, and show support for the victims, no matter where they're from. Shame those who feed hatred. Convince those who have doubts that it is only because they're afraid. Only citizens can do that; Those who sells arms to dictatorships like Saudi Arabia or protect financial havens where lack of transparency makes it possible for terrorists to hide money are not part of the solution, they're part of the problem.
Refugees would have a place in a democratic Europe. What doesn't have a place in the European Union project that the elites are currently building is freedom. After the long night of stone, it is the time for democracy. And democracy can only be created from the bottom up. This is the best way to respond to terror. This is the best way to pay tribute to those who die as victims of fanaticism.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Spain. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.