Two cars used as rams.
One, in Charlottesville, Va., was driven by a neo-Nazi into a crowd of antiracist counterprotesters.
The other, driven by a Moroccan-born radical Islamist, careened blindly around Barcelona, killing 15 and injuring 126.
Excluding the similar modus operandi and the fresh proof that all forms of fascism eventually resemble one another, the two events differ in nearly every respect.
In Charlottesville, there were not two “sides,” as Donald Trump claimed, but rather two opposing camps, two visions of society and the world.
In Barcelona, by contrast, there was but one camp, that of nihilism and indiscriminate death: the whole world, every political leaning, every nationality, every religion (including Islam) jumbled together on the sidewalks of a city hated because it was full of people strolling in blissful innocence, enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company.
The ringleaders of Charlottesville are well known from television and social media: David Duke, Richard Spencer, “Baked Alaska” and the others who fomented the crowd.
The perpetrators of the slaughter in Barcelona were masked—faceless and nameless—up until the moment of action, and the instant renown it brought. It was nigh impossible to foresee; and, as for those who gave the orders, they are hunkered down between Iraq and Syria in what remains of the Islamic State, ready, when the time is right, to move their portable headquarters to more congenial climes. They will remain invisible and elusive for some time.
Responses to the Charlottesville tragedy are imaginable. We know, for example, that laws prohibiting the public expression of opinions that are in themselves offenses—even though the American Constitution makes such prohibitions legally impossible for now—would help mitigate this threat.
In the case of Barcelona, one faces the dizzying unknown. Except for tears and grief, no solutions are in sight to deal with the stealthy, sprawling army for which a driver’s license is a license to kill, and which decides at random where and when to strike—any city, provided it has open spaces with pedestrians and a whiff of life’s sweetness.
The Charlottesville mob convened to defend a statue honoring Robert E. Lee, who fought to preserve slavery. The members of that mob are nostalgic for a past that refuses to pass away, despite clearly being obsolete. The reappearance of what had been repressed, the re-emergence of the racists from the sewers into which 50 years of struggle for civil rights had swept them, imparts nothing new about their squalid ideology.
The Islamic extremists of Barcelona, by contrast, are the byproducts of a more recently formed and expanding nebula, the course of which no one can predict or fix. In just two decades we have had thousands of deaths world-wide—and a black book that, from Pakistan to the Philippines, from the African deserts to European suburbs and great American cities, shows no sign of closing.
The Charlottesville attack was clearly and unequivocally condemned around the world. In the U.S., the resurgence of Nazism behind the attack collided with a democracy that mounted a fierce resistance to the proponents of white supremacy.
After the horror of Barcelona, on the other hand, reactions in Europe and the world were far too vague, confused and sometimes even obscene. Are we dealing with fascism, commentators asked, or something other than fascism? Is this Islam or not Islam? Did the killers of 7-year-old Julian Cadman have a difficult childhood? Did they come from underprivileged backgrounds? Is this a psychiatric matter? Was it not our Islamophobia that ultimately radicalized the killers?
The idea that the cowls of the Ku Klux Klan, its torches and lynchings, continue to tempt a nonnegligible and possibly growing fringe in the U.S. is no doubt fearsome. Unprecedented, too, is the stupefaction engendered by an American president refusing to name the crime and the criminals, thereby fraying still further the foundational compact of contemporary America.
Especially as the darkness of the time plays with our perception, we must beware of false symmetries. Humanity has a duty to confront with equal determination both heads of the beast. But the fact remains—in the U.S. as in Europe, it is necrophiliac Islamo-fascism, as shown in Barcelona, that holds life, death, and the future in its clutches.
Translated from French by Steven B. Kennedy.