As 22 July 2011 becomes a more distant memory, we are overwhelmed with massacres and terrorist attacks in other parts of the world, including fierce attacks in Turkey, France, and the United States. At the time of writing, the terrorist attack in Nice, France, is the most recent. Many of these attacks seem to be masterminded by the terrorist group ISIS, reflecting an extreme Islamist ideology and a wish to spread fear and terror in as many communities as possible.
What does this do to our memory of 22 July?
There are at least three possible paths that our thinking about this may take:
Firstly, the 22 July attacks by a right-wing extremist nationalist may come increasingly to be seen as a “black swan” event, something terrible and serious, yet untypical and unexpected as compared to what appears to be the more widespread sort of terrorism in our current world, namely extremist Islamist terrorism.
Secondly, we may come to see all extremist terror as merely different variants of the same mindset, much as philosophers such as Hannah Arendt and Eric Voegelin came to view National Socialism and Communism in the 20th century. While seemingly polar opposites, such extremist political ideologies have a lot in common and feed off each other in creating enemy images and legitimizing extreme violence.
And thirdly, we may surmise that exactly because these types of ideologies feed off each other, the one becomes more potent as the other one rises. The recent Dallas shootings in the United States, where an activist set out to kill white police officers in response to and as a protest against several shootings of black people by white law enforcers, displays how anger, fear, and conflict trigger reactions by individuals or groups on both sides of a conflict. This arguably makes extremist nationalism and anti-immigrant fervor potentially more dangerous forces that we must be vigilant about, just as ISIS-inspired terrorism dominates the headlines.
Either way, the resulting tragedies remain exactly that: tragedies. They engender fear and resentment, which is just what the perpetrators wish to create. To maintain togetherness, respect, tolerance, and peaceful order in the face of such terror becomes, once again, just as after 22 July 2011, our great task. Seen in that light, keeping alive the memories of 22 July and its aftermath remains as important as ever.