Yesterday was a tragic day in Europe. Death and violence have swept the continent in two episodes that might, at first hand, seem unrelated.
In the Belgian city of Liège, a man threw hand grenades and opened fire on the crowd at the city center’s Christmas market, killing four and injuring more than 100 (of which seven are reported to be in serious condition). He then turned the gun to himself and committed suicide. The Guardian reports:
A convicted gun fanatic threw hand grenades and opened fire on a square bustling with Christmas shoppers in the centre of the Belgian city of Liège, killing five people, including himself, and wounding at least 122, some critically.
Hours after failing to show up for police questions about his preoccupation with guns, the 33-year-old unleashed a lunchtime attack on Place Saint Lambert, which was hosting a Christmas market that attracts 1.5 million visitors a year.
Last night, King Albert II and Queen Paola visited Liège, a tough, post-industrial city in the east of the country, which was in a state of shock after the attack.[…]
The gunman was named as Nordine Amrani, a 33-year-old Liègeois who was known to be a “gun freak”, according to the police. He was given a jail term of almost five years after police officers raided his metal workshop three years ago and found a dozen firearms, including an AK-47 machine-gun, and 9,500 gun parts. He was also found guilty of drug dealing after cultivating 2,800 marijuana plants.
Today, police have raided the murderer’s home and found the body of a woman who he had presumably killed prior to the attack. Again, from The Guardian:
Belgian police have found the body of a woman at the home of the gunman who killed four people and injured 122 in an attack in the city of Liège.
Liège prosecutor Daniele Reynders said the body of a woman in her 40s had been discovered during a search of Nordine Amrani’s property.
A few hours after the attack in Liège, in the Italian city of Florence, a man who is described as a “lone gunman with extreme rightwing sympathies” opened fire over a group of African migrants, killing two Senegalese street vendors and wounding a third one. According to reports:
Gianluca Casseri, 50, an accountant, first shot dead two vendors and wounded a third with a .357 Magnum at the crowded Piazza Dalmazia street market on the outskirts of the city on Tuesday morning.
He then fled in a car after threatening to shoot a stall holder who attempted to stop him, reappearing later in the day at the central San Lorenzo market where he fired at two African vendors, wounding both.
Police officers found Casseri back in his car in the car park of the market, where they fired warning shots before he reportedly shot himself dead.[…]
The Italian far-right, anti-immigration organisation Casapound said on Tuesday that Casseri was a “sympathiser” who had frequented one of its centres in Tuscany, holding talks on his book.
Following the attacks in Belgium, a round of speculations started:
Initial fears that a trio of terrorists could be responsible were ruled out by police and prosecutors, as was any speculation that Belgium could be contending with a Norway-copycat killing spree. “It was an isolated act which has sown sorrow in the heart of the city,” said Willy Demeyer, the mayor of Liège, the main city of Belgium’s francophone smaller half, Wallonia.
I am afraid to say that, as comforting as it might be for politicians to claim this was an isolated incident, they are wrong. Both attacks, in Liège and in Florence are neither isolated nor did they happen in a vacuum. Both are borne out of Europe’s increasingly alarming rhetoric of hatred. Both incidents are the result of an ongoing disdain for human life and for the growth of a kind of dehumanizing rhetoric that normalizes acts of violence.
What we are witnessing here is a continent affected by a wave of Neo-Obscurantist values and a political class that is doing little to counteract it. I am not a fan of Friedrich Nietzsche however, he was right when in “Human, all too human”, he said:
“The essential element in the black art of obscurantism is not that it wants to darken individual understanding, but that it wants to blacken our picture of the world, and darken our idea of existence.”
The European Union was supposedly funded on certain values that are no longer upheld and that have given way to alienation and a rule of the financial industry in detriment of people’s quality of life. The Danish Institute for Human Rights, under the title banner of “EUROPE, ENLIGHTENMENT AND RIGHTS” succinctly explains this funding principles:
Europe, democracy and human rights have been linked for many hundreds of years. Both before and after modern political science began in the 16th century and until today. 21st century Europe has institutionalized human rights by setting up fora like the Council of Europe, the EU and the OSCE. The Council of Europe has also created the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, both of which are directly related to UN human rights instruments.
Enlightenment was an 18th century European cultural movement that sought to advance and reform society through knowledge. Contemporary philosophers like Jurgen Habermas have laid down the basis of Enlightenment, its effects and what it meant for European societies. Mostly, Habermas concerned himself with the transformation of the European Public Sphere and the original implications of the values of Enlightenment in European social developments. He mentions that, the European Public Sphere that came to be as a result of Enlightenment was:
it discussed the domain of “common concern”;
its main argument was founded on reason.
In 18th century Europe, the movement that opposed Enlightenment was dubbed “Obscurantism”. Proponents of Obscurantism sought to limit knowledge to the ruling classes and proposed restricting rights only to a few, mostly members of the ruling elite. Those adept at restrictive dissemination of knowledge and rights claimed that this position was for the “greater good” of all society.
Europe, as a utopia, as a unity based on the principles of Enlightenment should abandon all pretension. What we currently have is a continent that elects leaders who promote racial hatred and who actively seek to violate the rights of minorities. A continent that has accepted the rule of financial institutions that create wealth for a few while a vast number of people struggle to make ends meet. A continent that no longer vocally opposes racist violence which, week after week, affects the most vulnerable:
- Norway: Jessica Kiil, a Congolese mother of three and active participant in local community debate viciously beaten by far right thugs (Norway, while technically not a EU member, is part of the Schengen Agreement)
- Ireland: Racist attacks on special needs boy on school grounds
- Greece: Two men and one woman to go on trial charged with attacking a 24-year-old Afghan asylum seeker
- UK: A new inquiry has found that a wealthy former director of a London City investment fund is giving financial sponsorship to the racist and fascist English Defence League
- Czech Republic: Two racists try to murder Romani family, victims charged for defending themselves
- London: woman captured on video attacking a Black young man in a bus. And two weeks ago, a similar case in a tram.
- French far right group likens Muslim immigrants to invaders threatening the identity of the French heartland and menacing European civilization. The movement — with a wild pig as its logo — is gaining traction through its blend of Islam-bashing and romanticizing of French rural culture.
- Spain: people who do not “look Spanish” can be stopped by police as often as four times a day.
And these are just a few of the incidents I have read this week. This is the widespread, unaddressed violence that certain groups of people have to endure on a daily basis. Nothing is left of the funding values of inclusivity and egalitarianism that preceded the idea of a united Europe. Instead, we are witnessing a form of Neo-Obscurantism with a complacent ruling class that remains moot for fear of losing votes. This ruling class, either purposefully ignoring this hatred or inciting it through inflammatory speech.
These days, media is full of stories about “saving the European Union” and rescuing those nations in financial distress. Talks of “unity” and “shared values” abound. As a European resident, moreover, a very angry European resident that is all too aware of the violence the member States of the EU allow to happen on their watch, I must ask: which Europe is worth saving? The Europe of the values of inclusion or this Europe some of us suffer on a daily basis? The Europe of violence, exclusion and racism? Because the incidents in Liège and Florence, together with the endless list of non deadly aggressions that happen on a daily basis are part of this continent, even though many would prefer to remain silent about them or claim that they are “isolated”. If anyone needs to be disavowed of the notion of “isolated” incidents, all they need is read the list above. Sadly, these are the values that Europe currently stands for.