It’s not true that the bloody events in Strasbourg are nothing more than a sequel to a film we’ve already seen, some terrorist déjà vu in simple continuity with the terrible acts of recent years that have made hundreds of victims across Europe: from Charlie Hebdo to Bataclan, from Nice to Berlin and Barcelona. Just like before, the peace we associate with Christmas and festive decorations—even if, in this case, marketing-related—has been torn asunder and we have been thrown back into fear and insecurity; however, we are now faced with something new.
Of course, it’s true that this is merely the next stop on the trail of bloodshed that doubles back to our homelands after the many—too many—wars we have sown in the Middle East, including with direct Western involvement, with no chance for us to invoke the presumption of innocence as thousands and thousands of our foreign fighters sauntered from one conflict to the next, from Libya to Syria to Yemen.
But the scene has truly changed, for at least two powerful reasons.
The first is the ideological blindness associated with these wars, which has been afflicting European governments old and new—whose hands are not at all clean in these bloody disasters—but also the left, whose short-sightedness has been nothing short of weapons-grade. When the bloody business of a war is not only yet unfinished but at a decisive turning point, our intervention tends to determine its possible conclusions. For instance, if we look at the essentials, Libya is and has remained devastated ever since the NATO intervention in 2011.
The Islamic State has sprouted up here and there, while the country remains divided among hundreds of militias and politically divided into at least three parts that are competing for dominance over the whole, including “our guy,” Sarraj, and General Haftar, the leader of Cyrenaica supported first and foremost by France and Egypt.
It is with these warring parties, moreover, that we have allied ourselves in order to start our new war on migrants—precisely those who are fleeing the disasters we have caused. Thus, the contest is not only that between the parties actually fighting, but between the protectors of one side and those of the other, pitting, for instance, Russia against the United States.
Syria is on the brink of Bashar al-Assad’s victory, while the “Coalition of Friends of Syria” led by the US, Saudi Arabia—which invented and bankrolled the Islamic state—and Sultan Erdogan of Turkey—which has been its safe haven—thought they could repeat the same pattern after the cruel and successful experiment in Libya and manage to oust Assad. However, he held on to power, and now this outcome has made the protagonists of this failure pay a heavy price, as demonstrated by the losses incurred by Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Most importantly, ISIS, which has lost most of its strongholds and its leaders, is not yet defeated: Idlib has not fallen. Who will face them in their last stand, and where will the militants flee now that Turkey seems to have changed allegiance? At this very hour, the new US-led coalition is engaged in deadly air strikes, in the silence of the international media, for what is being billed as the “final battle.” It is thus not hard to imagine that the forces of the Islamic State, about to be defeated, are, as a last resort, reopening the front of the terrorist attacks in the West.
But the other clear element of novelty concerns the West itself. While the international arena has been consumed by Trump, who has actually failed to start any new wars—an activity that has become bipartisan, dabbled in by both right-wing and center-left governments—but represents the offspring of the ideological content of past warmongering (xenophobia, open racism, “America first”), here we have Europe and its political project in the form of the Union going through a perfect storm that is unsettling everything: from the tragicomic misadventures of Brexit to the internal but devastating conflicts in Spain; from austerity that remains in action above and beyond the provisions of the European treaties; and the situation of the forgotten and ill-treated Greece; to the crisis of Germany and of its highly central role; to Eastern Europe in the hands of authoritarian, nationalist-sovereignist and anti-EU governments, who claim to be, as Poland explicitly sees itself, “the bulwark of Christianity”; all the way to the political hurricane currently ravaging France under the “reformer” Macron.
Now, nobody is surprised about the fact that in the same Parisian neighborhoods where terrorism of Islamic roots has struck at the heart of civil society, people are building barricades and violent clashes are taking place, with the yellow vests the protagonists of a violent social upheaval. Everywhere has become a battlefield.
The terrorist attacks, such as this latest one in Strasbourg, can distract us from this pervasive situation, but they actually serve as tragic confirmation of it.
And what about Italy and its new ambiguities, with no less than two strands of populism (anti-corruption and racist) in power?
Just hours before the attack in the capital of the European Parliament, Interior Minister Salvini—a racist, giving cover for neo-fascism, an enemy of Muslims and a master of hate propaganda—while he was visiting his ally Netanyahu in Israel—as is good form for every extreme-right leader intent on climbing the ladder of power—emphasized that Italy stands with Israel, which has given encouragement and comfort to ISIS, and against Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah, the only forces which—along with the Kurds of Rojava—have fought the Islamic State directly.
This provoked a sharp statement by the Italian Ministry of Defense, which, at least, had the good sense to remember that accusing a force such as Hezbollah, in government in Lebanon, of terrorism puts the security of thousands of Italian UNIFIL peacekeepers at risk, who are committed to maintaining peace on the tension-filled front of the Israeli-Lebanese border. Meanwhile, the Italian government as a whole has been silent on the assassination of Khashoggi, whose author was the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and is perfectly fine—just as Renzi and Gentiloni were—with the deliveries of tons of ordinance from our bomb factory in Sardinia to the Saudi regime, which is using it to lead the atrocious war against civilian Shiites in Yemen.
This time, Italy itself has been exposed to every new and terrible danger, thanks to Salvini’s recklessness and the traditional boasting about our “excellence in arms.” Christmas is coming, and between the festive songs and holiday cheer, we’d better figure out how to fix the teetering crib full of past misdeeds and terrible truths before it crashes down on our heads.