By David Atienza, January 31, 2012
I remember, growing up in Spain, I used to always watch on the news images about Iran-Iraq’s war or the Intifada in Palestine. Every time that someone was killed, the news presented a featureless mass of grievers screaming and shaking their guns in the air threateningly. The day Gulf War I began my mother woke me up in the morning to go to school and told me: “The beginning of WWIII is close” and I spent all day terrified.
Spaniard’s collective mind has, in general, a negatively shaped opinion about Muslims that has been developed historically. Seven hundred years of Muslim occupation-coexistence, the use of Moor’s Guard by Franco and many other events have molded these ideas that are even collected in many tales where the evil character is presented with Arabic physical features like Scar, the evil uncle in the Lion King. This fear was not totally elaborated since few of us in Madrid around that time ever had any contact with Muslim people, but finally on 9/11, this fear reached the United States, formerly terrified by the Soviet Union and the possibility of a nuclear war. Eleven years later, a film called “The Third Jihad” has been shown to more than one hundred police officers of New York in their training facilities and it has been a scandal.
Whether or not the threat is real, the film touches something deep that generates anguish. When I was a child, I did not realize what scared me from those images, but after reading Girard’s works, things begun to clear up in my mind. The profound fear of violence comes from the undifferentiated mass that erases the differences and avoids any possible classification or order, and this fear generates more violence. The mass is in itself undifferentiated like the violence that it provokes. Since Osama bin Laden was killed, we do not have a defined face to situate the origin of this violence, so the fear grows unconsciously and the ‘victimary’ process is up to begin. The first step has been taken; lately it has been denounced that the police of New York, together with the CIA, is monitoring through “mosque crawlers” ALL Muslim communities and activities, and this is something that has spread all around the US. The tension provoked by the economic crisis is a very good breeding ground for the mimetic violence to burst. The situation is delicate.
What must be done? In my opinion, and following René Girard’s theory, there is one way out in order to avoid the increasing ethnic violence in the US. Since the first objective of terrorism is to create terror, panic, or uncontrollable fear, this kind of movies are supporting their enemies’ goals indirectly. Therefore the best option is to reduce this fear in the population by shaping and putting limits to the real threat. Islam is not jet a unified enemy and this has to be understood and maintained because from our capacity to separate or define reality comes order and therefore peace. If we do not separate reality from fiction, at the end there will be no difference and ‘terror’ will fulfill its destiny: to generate chaos, and chaos breeds violence, and violence is undifferentiated and highly contagious.
I hope my mother was wrong.