“They won’t be able to change our way of life”. This is one of the most abused expressions after the terrible terrorist attacks of Barcelona and Cambrils. We heard it pronounced by politicians, journalists and many people of good will who publicly showed their refusal of these irrational crimes. “They won’t be able to change our way of life”. Are we sure? In fact, whether we like it or not, some things have changed: security measures increase – the need for them becomes more urgent – and not only seeds of intolerance but seeds of hate are also being sown towards Islam and Muslims living amongst us, seeds that can bring us towards violence; and most of all, a general lack of trust is being spread towards those who are considered different.
Faced with this expression a series of increasingly radical questions emerge: why have we now started to speak about our “way of life”? What does “our” mean here? Can we identify a set of assets and values common to everyone, for which we are prepared to work together? What should be done concerning the primacy of individualism which governs our social life? All of a sudden, in front of the murdering hostility of jihadism, the claiming back of a western “way of life”, which had determined Europe during the so-called modernity and which, almost solemnly, had been proclaimed as dead, rises from the ashes. The casualties from the attacks seem to have the power of resuscitating the Enlightenment ideals of a free and rational society, as if they were socially shared and desired by everyone. Is this really so? The fragmentation on all levels which reigns in our personal and social lives seems to contradict this. At least, the rampant individualism of our society, which is making us more and more incapable of communicating amongst ourselves, makes it impossible to speak about a presumed common “way of life” in a peaceful and naïve way. One need only think about the forms of exclusion which support the economy and politics and hence, social relations.
Fragmentation is so dominant that it is difficult to state with truth the existence of this “way of life” of ours. In fact, “the individualism of our postmodern and globalised era favours a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships” (Francis, Evangelii gaudium 67). Of course, the situation is more complex. Expressions of solidarity and shared work – we encountered them during the most difficult years of the crisis – did not fail to present themselves and signal the persistence of an idea of a common good. However, these expressions – which are true and potential generators of positivity in society – don’t seem to have the force to change the dominating individualistic mentality.
So, what now? Faced with these attacks – against which it is necessary to react with all the appropriate measures of the lawful State and at all levels, especially on an educational level – each one of us is posed in front of a radical alternative. We can be more or less aware of this, but the way in which all of us will “start again” their daily life after the announcement of the attacks will reveal the nature of their choice.
On one hand, we can continue to narcissistically affirm what we consider “our way of life”, blocking off all roads to any kind of question or objection, to whatever crack through which a minimum of critical reflection would be possible; we can choose to be satisfied in contemplating ourselves, escaping any ties or relations, in a circle of absolute self-reference, letting illusion and appearance prevail until we die bloodless like Narcissus at the edge of the fountain. Or we can let ourselves be truly struck by the violent irrationality of these facts, allow for the wound to bleed and suppurate all the evil which it leaves in our oppressed hearts, so that the question on the meaning of life and death becomes present as a special expression of the magna quaestio, the most important issue at hand, man himself.
Every “way of life” is a practical expression of the response with which all of us answer the essential questions which distinguish man. We have an opportunity to meet and tell each other the questions and answers that make us live. Overcoming anachronistic ideological barriers, searching for that light which enlightens every man. It’s worth the effort.