The Nice attack, more so than any terrorist act before it, is bound to change the way the fear of Muslims will circulate in everyday life in the West. More so than bombs that are specifically designed to kill, have no other usage, and need to be hidden from view, and more so than the planes that were used in the 9/11 attacks on New York, trucks are everyday objects that we encounter at every moment of our day. The attack will therefore inevitably accentuate the feeling that the ‘Islamic danger’ lurks anywhere at any time. There is no need to smuggle illegal substances, to learn how to technically build bombs, or how to use them, anything can be used to hurt people as long as there is a Muslim willing to hurt you. One cannot help trying to imagine how much ‘willingness to hurt’ that truck driver had in him to continue zigzagging and killing people for so long.
The space of suspicion will now become wider. It will no longer be someone-looking-Muslim on a plane, or someone-looking-Muslim with a backpack. Now the bearded man driving their truck from the wholesaler to the local shop, the someone-looking-Muslim who made an extra noise while driving his motorbike, etc… all of them will be looked at suspiciously. And the space of suspicion will not only be restricted to ‘trucks’ but will extend to any object that can potentially be transformed into something that hurts people. Terrorists are succeeding in making our societies become more and more nervous, more and more paranoid, and this always means more and more venomous and fascistic. And that is without the likelihood of achieving much else.
Today’s Islamic fanatics are operating with a well-established and understandable warring logic. They understand that wars always involve two boundaries. The first boundary is the one created at the point of contact that separates friends from enemies. The second, equally important, is the one separating the space of war from the space of peace. Each society that is at war aims to protect its citizens not just from the enemy but from war itself. That is, it aims to create a space where its citizens don’t even experience a state of war. It is that space that the terrorists try to infiltrate. They see the West as waging a colonial/religious war against the ‘Islamic world’. But they also see that this war is always being fought in ‘Islamic’ territories while westerners can enjoy a peaceful life on their own lands. They think that it is a major achievement to disrupt that state of peace. From their perspective it appears as a just re-distribution of violence but it joins a long history of practices of collective indiscriminate ‘revenge’ in being anything but just.
Fanatic terrorists are not going to ‘learn from history’ anymore than anyone else has done so before them. But if they were open to learning they would recognise that what they are trying to achieve on a world scale has been tried by Palestinian terrorists in their war of liberation against Israeli colonialism. And that is a struggle that has far more legitimacy and roots in popular struggles than their’s.
The Israeli government tries to protect Israelis from Palestinian warriors, but it also tries to protect them from the very idea and fact that there is a war between Israelis and Palestinians. The more successful they are the more Israeli citizens are capable of happily sipping wines and coffees in Tel Aviv oblivious to what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank. This is also true in a certain way of the Arab citizens of Israel despite all the discrimination against them. They might not be oblivious to what is happening elsewhere in Palestine but they are nonetheless capable of benefitting from the Israeli success in carving out a space which is not a war zone. They are capable and they do benefit from such a space. When terrorists strike, they indiscriminately strike in that space.
Whenever Palestinians succeed in hurting Israelis through an act of terrorism, some Palestinians still rejoice feeling that as long as there is a will to fight and as long as there is a capacity to hurt, there is a hope of liberation. But over sixty years of this petty kind of hope at the sight of revenge attacks that have taken variety of forms, including ploughing trucks through crowds, many Palestinians are wondering if such violence-derived hope in the face of the formidable violence of the Israeli machine can actually take them anywhere. They are looking for alternative paths. The Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement is an expression of such an alternative path.
Thus, it can be said without a shadow of a doubt that today terrorism is the least useful part of the Palestinian struggle. It might have brought recognition at some point in history. It might have given Palestinians a sense of purpose and disallowed them to feel entirely defeated. But in the last analysis it has outlived its usefulness and failed to achieve its goal. All it is now doing is contributing to give legitimacy to the inevitable and continuing drift of Israeli society into increasingly fascistic forms of Zionism.
This ‘French Tunisian’ truck driver is a hater in a way that is way more vile than all the racist haters of western society that are raising their heads everywhere are. All he has done is given them reasons and alibis to hate more and perhaps to hate like him. He has assassinated more than eighty people and driven us more inevitably than ever towards the Israelification-to-come of our societies and our souls.
Those who see themselves engaging in progressive politics can no longer simply ‘critique’ the government drift to the right, the curtailing of freedoms and the racist profiling that anti-terrorist legislations have institutionalised. They urgently need to engage with, formulate and push for radically different anti-terrorist policies themselves. What does a non-discriminatory anti-terrorist policy look like? Does it even exist? How can it be implemented? How can it be articulated to a foreign policy animated by an alter-colonial desire? Is that remotely possible? I have always operated with a sense that such questions are impossible to ask without serious radical change. But perhaps the urgent need to fight the global Israelification-to-come that we are facing makes it urgent to ask them and make them yield practical policies ‘before’ rather than ‘after the revolution’ as it were.