OPINION

A buried problem rears its ugly head

Last Friday’s missile attack on the US Embassy in Athens had all the makings of a major piece of news to be splashed all over the domestic, and foreign, press. But it also dynamically brought back to the fore a problem that many believed had been firmly left in the past. Experience has shown us that terrorism is difficult to wipe out completely. It is a phenomenon that has the tendency to resurface, particularly in Greece, where some three decades of action by November 17 helped to create a veritable myth around the terror organization. This phenomenon is not just a distorted version of the protest movement, it is also the manifestation of an immoral political illiteracy that is bound to bring about exactly the opposite results of those it proclaims to seek. It creates a climate that leads toward massive increases in policing and surveillance and the restriction of civil freedoms. But it also transforms the terrorists themselves into professional warriors. When certain left-wingers arm themselves in order to realize their dream of ostensibly representing the working classes, the outcome is a nightmare. The members of these organizations are fanatics but idealists who are undertaking a great personal risk. They are attracted to violence and consider their attacks to be rituals carried out for a higher goal. Their guns embolden them with arrogance, making them feel like gods. The fact that the Revolutionary Struggle group succeeded in firing a missile at the US Embassy proves that there was a lack of security – and this lack allows those intent on following in the footsteps of N17 to develop similar courses of action. Seen from this point of view, the attack was a wake-up call. Police action in itself is not adequate. It might be able to crush the problem, but not to eradicate its roots. The only way to exterminate the threat once and for all is for it to be demolished ideologically and demythologized. This is the only way to drain the source from which such crime groups draw their strength. Terrorism is a grave crime but a political one. The existence of political motives does not reduce the gravity of the crime. However much these crimes may provoke emotional reactions, democracy will only lose if public debate on the subject is restricted to demonization or simplistic anathemas. The stance according to which such assailants are merely common criminals, as was maintained during the N17 trial, is propagandistic. The way that politicians and society itself responds to terrorist organizations proves the exact opposite. A democratic state has nothing to gain from syndromes of fear and no need for propagandist tactics.