Afraid or not, the thousands who marched in the streets of Barcelona last Saturday are aware that we can only continue to be ourselves if we harness fear. We will only maintain social cohesion in a society as diverse as Catalonia’s if we get over the rage and the threatening feelings, and tackle the tremendous challenge posed by islamist fanaticism head-on. Catalan society is as diverse as Barcelona’s La Rambla, which ISIS did not target at random. La Rambla is a symbol of all the freedom, disinhibition and joy that these medieval fanatics loathe to death.
Saturday’s march in Barcelona city saw thousands of people gather to express many messages in the same spot. It was a demonstration that held many demonstrations within. But there was a shared anxiety against islamist terror, which was eloquently expressed in the manifesto that was read in Plaça de Catalunya, a text that brought the words we heard in Ripoll further into focus.
The greatest challenge for our society as we understand it today is to protect the cosmopolitanism that defines us without self-deceit, without sugarcoating our interpretation of the problem we face today and its magnitude. The sister of two of the Catalan terrorists put it very clearly. Her tears expressed the gravity of the moment for society at large, for our world. Wearing a headscarf and speaking superb Catalan, this well-integrated woman spoke of her inability "to comprehend” what had happened; she asked us to work together so that “young muslim Catalans do not embrace perverse ideologies” and she stressed that violence “has nothing to do with Islam” and “has no place in a democratic society”. The Ripoll speaker was addressing all of us, including muslims, when she made two fundamental requests: to reject extremist messages and to “change many things that no longer make sense in this day and age”. It is not too late to save ourselves and we will only do so if we don’t bury our heads in the sand and think ourselves impervious to violence and xenophobia.
It is essential for us to understand the mechanism by which islamist violence becomes appealing and then put our religious beliefs aside to work together to protect our diversity and avoid becoming a nation with ghettos, like some of our European neighbours, such as France and Belgium. Progress in integration is up to all of us, but we will only succeed if moderate muslims join in and stand up to reactionary Islam and the sects that pervert their religion.
An odd demonstration
Saturday’s march in Barcelona city was rather peculiar. A wide range of sensibilities expressed themselves. It was not a demonstration like the one held when ETA murdered Ernest Lluch, where you could cut silence with a knife, or the march against the war in Iraq or the rallies on Catalonia’s National Day. It was a strained mix of emotions. There was a massive expression of public gratitude towards law enforcement, especially Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra, and a condemnation of violence, combined with the tension brought by the current political situation. There were banners opposing arms sales and denouncing the connection between the king of Spain and the Al-Saud family, Catalan flags, separatist flags, Spanish flags and, among all that, PM Rajoy, King Felipe and the main Spanish political leaders marching together as a group. The demonstration encapsulated the tension we experienced before and after the attacks and the testing times we are living. It is not the first time that political leaders are booed. The decision to place first responders at the head of the march with political leaders behind them —thus keeping a lower profile— sought to avoid a reaction by the general public. But the body armour provided by those honest public employees did not suppress a strong expression of discontent towards the Spanish government and the king.
The reaction of some newspapers suggests that political hostilities will resume as soon as the Catalan government and parliament activate the mechanisms that will facilitate a referendum on independence.
We still do not know how Catalan society will assimilate the terror attacks, but we do know that some political demands are obviously felt very close to home. For instance, the quality of law enforcement and our capacity to become a better nation.
With Madrid-based papers firing on all pistons to smear the work of the Catalan police and conceal the price paid by keeping them in the dark, PM Rajoy allowed himself to show restraint This crisis is merely a stopover in the political confrontation. But the people have seen what everyone is capable of. Who didn’t meet the expectations, who was out of place, who had no real authority, who provided reassurance and who did the work. A dramatic change has occurred: the relationship with Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra. The general public’s approval of their courageous, conscientious work is unlikely to be short-lived.