By Christian Scheinpflug
Once upon a time, not too long ago, Chileans were busy living in Chile. Although stuff from outside has always been valued in the shopping, Arica and Cape Horn could stand as markers of the comfort zone. Last week’s shooting in Munich, for example, just seems surreal and far away.
On Saturday details emerged that Munich may have differed in motives, but not substance, to the episodes in Paris, Brussels, Nice, and, Würzburg. While all these cities now will be remembered as locations where terror struck, the Munich-shooter, an 18-year old second generation German-Iranian, seems to have been inspired by Anders Breivik, the Norwegian neo-fascist who killed 77 people in a summer camp exactly five years before Munich took place.
Amidst understandable confusion and recent experience, Munich police didn’t really know whether a terror attack or something else was going on. Even though it didn’t mention the word ‘terror’ in its much acclaimed Twitter feed of that night, spokesman Marcus da Gloria Martins admitted that given recent experience such a scenario was the likeliest.
That the carnage later turned out a result of rampage rather than terror makes no difference to the victims, even the oldest being only 45 year of age.
Yet, the difference counts in politics. Foreign dignitaries (and clowns) like Francois Hollande and Boris Johnson linked the killings quickly Islamic terrorism. In light of recent events that may have been plausible, even tempting, but such comments were still extremely unprofessional.
Angela Merkel got out rather lucky. The far-right nut-jobs of Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party ran wild on Twitter, making Merkel and her refugee policy directly responsible for the killings. Yet, the motive seems to have psychological rather than political roots. This is no reason for complacency.
The assassin seems to have planned meticulously for the day. And, unfortunately, he got much of what he wanted. One person, killing nine people, paralysing a major city, inflicting fear far beyond his effective radius and, moreover, his name poised to dominate the headlines for a while to come.
Still, he lacked innovation. Probably the first attack following this pattern took place in Mumbai, 2008. Ten Islamist militants ran a series of attacks that kept the city, the country, indeed the world, terrified for three days and claimed 166 lives. It’s no secret that Mumbai inspired the Paris operations as well. A general characteristic of all cases, is that a pretty small number of assassins shut down a major city with relatively little effort.
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, resembled more closely IRA or ETA attacks in the 1970s and 1990s. Moreover, the bomb, although it resulted in 14 injured, and no doubt caused much horror and trauma, didn’t paralyse the city. I remember well having spent that day around Estación Central, in the evening even going about my classes as if nothing had happened. Escuela Militar was far away.
I only got worried when I heard the government would apply the anti-terrorism law, since this law prevents from ensuring to have caught the right guy. That doesn’t mean the anti-terrorist law, permitting shoddy evidence and abolishing due process, amongst others, wasn’t a logical choice. For a society that prefers punishment and vengeance over the rule of law and justice, such a law makes perfect sense — for everyone who’s not sitting in front of a judge, that is. This law has never been designed to establish justice, its purpose has been to establish guilt no matter what.
But beyond the justice system’s inability, and the government’s unwillingness to establish guilt without doubt in extreme cases, something else is disconcerting. With effortless and ubiquitous Internet access, Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells claims, timeless time emerged. This means an event in one part of the world, happens in real-time in any place that is connected via 24/7 news and social media on portable devices.
Timeless time may also be interpreted as time that never ends. This means that events are recorded forever; just click some of the hyperlinks above and you’ll get the idea. No doubt, this very text contributes to the proliferation of the Munich event. And now think of Santiago Downtown during lunchtime, or Metro Tobalaba during rush hour. The thought is horrifying, but responsible authorities would design prudent security policy with that thought in mind.
France proves that mass surveillance doesn’t count for prudent policy. French authorities have basically unrestricted access to all communication and even private property of anyone they deem suspicious. Also, giving away our RUT number when entering a building, or being content with our every step being monitored and recorded takes our freedom away without adding protection. Worse, these measures create the illusion of security and blind us to other options. Time and again hard and tedious police work has proven superior to cheap and comfy surveillance. Police forces should also establish links with their European colleagues who faced urban carnage; special units need to formed and stand guard.
All these measures should materialise as link to defend democracy and the nation; they must always be subordinated to the primacy of politics, delinked from politicians’ approval ratings. Most of all, they must adhere to the highest standards of the rule of law.
This is important, because once upon a time is no more. Chile is part of the world and so Chileans cannot keep busying themselves with just living in Chile.
Christian Scheinpflug earned an Master’s degree from the University of Leicester. In his thesis he investigates the Anglo-Chilean alliance during the Falklands War. He lives in Santiago and works as translator, editor, and political analyst.