Dei ex machina

Stereotypes are invincible. However fast political developments may be unfolding, cliches and stereotypes are always there to grab onto when confusion and shock prevent more sober thinking.

And that was the case in the wake of the shootings outside the Golden Dawn office in Neo Iraklio, northern Athens, on Friday that left two members of the neofascist party dead and another seriously injured. Popular cliches ranged from the oft-heard “The motorcycle used by the gunmen is under the microscope of the anti-terror squad” (which suggests that the Greek police have access to equipment like the hi-tech gadgets employed by CSI staff in the American TV series) to the pointless repetition of the “virtual condemnation” of the hideous act.

Others ranged from the cliche of “international conspiracy,” now invoked by Golden Dawn (apparently seeking martyr status after the self-victimization that followed the arrests of key party figures, including its leader, earlier this year), to talk about agents provocateurs – a theory popular among the Greek left (which seems to have learned nothing from the dismantling of the November 17 urban guerrilla group in 2002 that revealed a bunch of pretty ordinary folk rather than some kind of super-agents.

The “Who gains?” logic is not the waterproof interpretative tool that its advocates take it to be. The theory takes one drama (in this case the killings) out of context and imports it into a whole different one. In other words, it assumes that the perpetrators think as ordinary people, using normal standards and criteria. But this is hardly the case. Urban guerrilla warfare has never been loyal to this pattern simply because terrorists do not feel or think like ordinary people. Since the time of Nechayev (a character type analyzed in Dostoevesky’s “Possessed” and Camus’s “Rebel”) such men have been caught up in their own cliches.

One of the most stereotypical convictions is that these people enjoy divine status. As a result they feel they have the right and obligation to eliminate any obstacles to their cause – that is, they have a say over life and death. It is pointless therefore to suggest that in their acting as self-appointed gods they are serving those who they are supposedly fighting against. That is a language they do not speak and they do not understand.

As for the rest of us, we should once more try to lend meaning to any society that wants to be understood as a humane society. “A human life is worth nothing, and nothing is worth a human life,” Malraux famously said. Life is not weighted according to the beliefs of an individual. Nor is the death of a fellow human valued according to whether we like him or not.

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