Once Upon A Time…

By Christian Scheinpflug

This post appeared elsewhere in a slightly different version on July 25, 2016.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, Chileans were busy living in Chile. They didn’t have to care much further than Arica or Cape Horn. But authorities should also include lessons from the shooting last Friday in Munich in updated emergency plans.

On Saturday it emerged that the shooting may have differed in motives, but not substance, to the episodes in Paris, Brussels, Nice and many others. While Islamist attacks struck these cities, the Munich-shooter, a second generation German-Iranian, seems to have been inspired by Anders Breivik, the Norwegian neo-fascist who killed 77 youth in a summer camp exactly five years before Munich.

Panic and confusion left even the police in Germany’s perhaps most-german city assuming it dealt with a ‘serious terrorism situation,’ when it turned out that the incident should have been treated as a rampage. Definitions don’t make a difference to the victims, though, the oldest having been only 45. But definitions make a difference to politics.

Francois Hollande and Boris Johnson, for example, linked the shooting to Islamic terrorism while it was still going on and no details about its background were known. Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party ran wild on Twitter and blamed Angela Merkel and her refugee policy for the killings.

Apart from the politicking, the killer got what he wanted: killing nine people, paralysing a major city and inflict fear far beyond his effective radius. Even more so, his name will dominate the headlines for quite a while.

The attack itself followed loosely the pattern of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, when 10 Islamist militants assaulted key spots of the city, killing 166 people. This attack-style also reflected in the Paris operations as well. In each case, relatively few individuals shut down a major city.

This is different to the terror attack that took place in Santiago on September 8, 2014. The bomb that went off in metro station Escuela Militar reflected more the style of the IRA or ETA in the 1970s and 1990s. Moreover, the attack, undoubtedly causing anxiety and traums, resulted in 14 injured, which is bad enough. But Santiago wasn’t shut down. In places like Estación Central life went on as if nothing happened, although a terror attack too place just a 15-minute subway ride away.

Things got messy in the legal realm though. The government vowed to apply the anti-terrorism law, but this law impedes assuring the right person is punished, even though it alleviates the boiling emotions of the public. As the prosecution may withhold ‘evidence,’ the sole purpose of the law, implemented during the Pinochet dictatorship, has always been to establish guilt no matter what and give repression an orderly finish.

But beyond such transgressions of the rule of law, the revolution in telecommunications – creating what sociologist Manuel Castells calls timeless time – emerges as almost uncontrollable factor. With ubiquitous and instant communication events in one part of the world affect far-away places too.

That is, a similar event is entirely thinkable to take place in Downtown Santiago or any metro station during rush hour. As should be clear, style doesn’t rely on motive, so security policy cannot solely be based on history or sociology. Just because it didn’t happen in the past, or no Islamist community exists doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen here.

Mass surveillance doesn’t serve the purpose though. Being content with our every step being recorded on CCTV takes freedom away but does not add protection. Worse, these measures create the illusion of security and foreclose the necessity of tedious police and academic work in getting to the root of the problem.

Mass communications disseminate ideas good or bad, so once upon a time is no more.

Christian is a columnist at Chile Today. He’s also director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI) and co-editor of E-IR’s International Relations Theory. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrScheinpflug

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