My generation coexisted with terrorism. The 1970s through 1980s, the years when we were in our twenties, coincided with the dissemination of the purposeful advertising of massacre for politics. The bombs, left in public garbage cans, cars, planes or in the belt of young suicide bombers, exploded in crowds like messages without addresses and, nevertheless, sent. The Irish IRA, Basque ETA, German Baader Meinhof gang, Italian Red Brigades, concealed Italian neo-fascists, Tamil Tigers, Palestinian Black September, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine: The detonator’s soothsayers claimed the lives of several tens of thousands of people. And the blood continues to flow on the city sidewalks – New York, Paris, Beirut, Bamako, Tunis – for other causes, by other assassins. It is the Islamist, today, who [is violent].
People my age were more overwhelmed than surprised. We repeat the memory all too often in our daze before the images of death [and] our anger [during] the following days. We know this war by habit. Each time nevertheless, the devastation takes our [breath] away. Three-thousand deaths in Manhattan in 2001. One hundred thirty deaths in Paris in 2015, “the deadliest attack in France,” they stress, as if to find a supplementary reason for the stupor surrounding the attacks. The excess of destruction is the only [new phenomenon]. As for the rest, despite the apparent variety, terrorism has tragically been the same since the French Revolution. And antiterrorism still [just] as random.
When a “doomsday device” blew up Saint-Nicaise Street in Paris on December 24th, 1800, on Napoleon Bonaparte’s carriage — four deaths, a hundred injured, 46 houses destroyed, and Bonaparte unharmed — Fouché, the police minister, suspected the monarchists and marshalled the evidence of their guilt. But, it’s the Jacobins that the First Consul wanted dead. Fouché was relinquished for insubordination.
I remember the bomb in the train station waiting room in Bologna in August, 1980: 85 deaths and 200 wounded. The Red Brigades were accused. In reality, it was a neo-fascist operation supported by a coalition of assorted intelligence officers (SISMI) and of a rogue Masonic Lodge (P2). It took fifteen years of constantly thwarted investigation to obtain the sentence. Meanwhile, red and black terrorism disappeared, fatigued, put in check by society’s plastic resistance, inaccessible to the logic of terror.
I was not born in 1925 when the cupola of the cathedral of Sofia, blown up by the Bulgarian Communist Party, fell on the crowd during a funeral ceremony, killing 150 people and injuring 500. Communistic terrorism has also disappeared. Like, more recently, nationalistic terrorism: Basque, Irish, Palestinian, Tamil, and maybe Kurd.
Terrorism [is] something like an epidemic. It survives, it [evolves] and burns out. Another replaces it. Today’s terrorism masquerades as religious. It recruits [people] against “the infidels.” After each attack, experts give themselves over to an excess of certainties on the motives and remedies. We listen with indulgence. Terrorist rhetoric remains indecipherable.
People my age have read “Secret Agent,” Joseph Conrad’s prediction of the 1894 anarchist attack against the Greenwich Conservatory (one death). [In the book] there is the idea, advanced by a sinister Embassy Secretary, that the perfect terrorist act should [be shocking like an act of] gratuitous blasphemy. “A bomb outrage to have any influence on public opinion now must go beyond the intention of vengeance or terrorism. It must be purely destructive. It must be that, and only that, beyond the faintest suspicion of any other object.”