Παρασκευή, 18 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009

Fear in the Air

It was the morning of my departure from Barcelona when the frenzied call came in. At the other end of the line was my father, who in a worried tone told me to be extra careful, because things went really bad and all hell broke loose. He then went on to telling me something about Muslim terrorists and things going rough. I really did not understand that much but kept a cautious eye around me; on the journey to the Barcelona Sants train station. Nothing suspicious appeared there, and so with a sigh of relief I dived in the seat of the Altaria and then watched the landscape of northern Catalonia and Aragon zip by. Four hours later I was relaxing in my Madrid hotel room watching TV bulletins in anticipation of more information. In the next morning I was reluctantly leaving for Athens after an amazing trip around Spain, leaving behind any plans of visiting Portugal or Morocco. Pretty soon I was fully aware of what had happened. An Al- Qaida terrorist plot of attacking civilian airplanes using liquid explosives had been stopped in Britain, and everyone was catching their breath, as new safety measures against possible threats in the air were being thought of. Meanwhile all flights in and out of the UK (where it originated) and the USA were suspended. Things seemed pretty rough. With the TV screen humming I just sunk in the bed and went to sleep, to be ready for the next day’s departure.

On my arrival the next day nothing seemed like whatever I had seen in any post 9/11 arrival at an airport in Europe. Multiple security checks, and, at the X-RAY machine people being forced to hand over their shoes so that they can be passed, mothers forced to drink part of the milk stored for their infants, and people being forced to prove that they were carrying medicine. All other liquids had to be dumped. And, at the check in line I was looking at the passengers of a lot of flights to the UK, most of them being returning holidaymakers, tired, dirty, some even hungry, waiting patiently for their return flight. Some of them had stayed up all night hoping to catch some early flight, and all of them did not have any idea whatsoever concerning the time and date of their return home. And then the real ordeal started when I was to move on to the departure lounges. I had to go through some checkpoints, that made sure I was not carrying any liquids before entering the duty free lounge (after entering it I was free to carry as many tons of liquids as I liked- capitalism cannot be bothered by some security measures), and requesting me to remove my shoes so that they too can be scanned. Stuff that I could not imagine before this day. Big brother entering Europe’s air travel.

As the airplane was climbing, thoughts charged across my head. The thought of terrorist hits in mid-air, especially Al Qaida-style, caused many more backfires across Europe than the Madrid-Atocha and London hits. It scared the hell out of Europeans and helped European governments implement more anti-democratic legislation on their citizens. Fear, one of the most effective drugs any politician can use, it can cut across all class lines and turn on any sort of conservative reflex. This means that the public might turn the other cheek to any government’s misshaps, as long as the government can “protect” it from any foes that might rise up from any occasion such as this, whether they are real or imaginary. Suddenly Europe woke up in a state of terror, and started to become accustomed to the idea of giving up some of its constitutional rights in return to some ambiguous sort of security.

Finally, au contraire to their American counterparts, European governments will not turn their attention into subdoing some “rogue” developing country, but toward an all interior enemies, whether they are disobedient activists or part of the weakest link in all European Countries, the immigrants and the refugees. This result is visible today, two years later, with Islamofobia, racism, and, even worse, their totalitarian brother, fascism, rearing their ugly heads over the continent, and, at the same time most European democracies are turning into police states of one sort or another. And this, in a time when social struggles may rise, can make things very interesting. A few months after this trip, the ghettos in France erupted. About a year later Athens burned. Both explosions started because of police violence and part of their causes where related to police malpractice. And strike actions, occupations and demonstrations are met with violent reactions by the security forces. All these practices existed even before 9/11, but after 9/11 they became more common, and after these arrests, they have become some sort of standard response. But the more the repression, the more angry the public will become. And this will spark the fuse for more and more intense struggles.

Leaving all this behind though, I was reluctantly travelling back east, trying to get back to some sort of Greek-summer experience.

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