Valeria Solesin, a 28-year-old Italian killed at the Bataclan music venue in Paris on Friday, was a volunteer at Emergency, an Italian NGO. Cecilia Strada, who is president of the group, speaks reservedly; she does it to respect the grief of Soresin’s family and to prevent their name from becoming a tool for those who seek to invoke war and a state of emergency as necessary evils. She spoke with il manifesto.
Valeria’s story is striking.
She was a beautiful girl. She studied sociology and was passionate about the themes of democracy. I had just read an article in which she compared the employment situation of women in France and in Italy. Before going to study at the Sorbonne she was one of our volunteers in Trento, I still remember fondly. A journalist asked me yesterday what this girl had to do with the absurdity of war. I thought about it, and I said that the tragic death of Valeria rather does have to do with war, because terrorism is the essence of war. The innocent are always in the middle. This fact is now staring us in the eyes.
What is happening shows that those who have always opposed war had and have grounds. Yet this argument has failed to become the prevailing logic in public, and today, after the attacks of Paris, it is likely to be unconvincing even among people who support peace. Anguish and bewilderment prevail.
No doubt everything will be more complicated. This was my first thought, and I haven’t slept. The compulsion to repeat the same mistakes today may not face opponents. For this I am convinced that we must try to develop a new language and new tools; perhaps our pacifist dialectic is no longer sufficient. In addition to the ethical obligation to stand against war, we must explain why war is not needed, why it is useless. For the first time, in our cities, we see a tragedy like the one in which a hospital was bombed. I say this not to justify [the attack] or try to understand it; I say this because it is clear that violence only generates violence.
The most urgent question is: How do you impose peace?
It is clear that the most effective response is not to make another war. We know almost everything about what is going on in Syria: where the weapons are, where Islamic State funding comes from, the relations European states have with Saudi Arabia. We must unravel the great hypocrisy of the West. Use better intelligence, follow the flow of money and figure out who is financing terrorism. It’s a long game, and perhaps won’t immediately help to avert another massacre, but with bombings it has been shown to work. Then, of course, I am also convinced that it is necessary to do something: I want my children to go to a concert without being killed, and I want other people’s children to be treated in hospitals without being bombarded.
Claudio Magris, in an article in the Corriere della Sera, risks a parallel with Nazis saying that in some cases we must respond to violence with violence, to fight “the self-righteous slime.”
Even if you were to come to that conclusion, where are we going to hit? On the other side they have trenches and they’ve deployed armies. Let’s remember that the secret services and the most powerful armies in the world, when they’ve tried to hit terrorists, have always dropped bombs on civilians. They often speak of assassinations and I understand that striking the “bad guys” could even be acceptable, but unfortunately the reality on the ground is another matter. If you hit a terrorist and then leave an entire village without water and electricity, you risk creating two more terrorists. Each military option should be concerned with protecting civilians and be accompanied by an effective political and diplomatic course of action.
This crisis of direction and of Europe’s military strategy is happening while thousands of refugees are seeking asylum and are being rejected. What do you fear most about a new war or the spread of racism and xenophobic policies across the continent?
It all scares me. I’m afraid of the immigrant witch hunt and find the closure of borders disturbing. The refugees run away and are trying to enter Europe precisely because of the failure of our aggressive policies. To not welcome them would not only be deeply unfair but would fuel ISIS propaganda. We should also inquire about these killers in their early 20s, born in the outskirts of Brussels or Paris, and wonder why they do not feel a part of Europe. I read on Liberation an article about education, and I found an interesting solution that has nothing to do with war or bombs: It said that to defeat terrorism we have to pay teachers more.