Damn it! It’s getting personal. I lived in Charlottesville for five years and have visited Barcelona some eight times. On each occasion I would enjoy strolling down Las Ramblas, with its two parallel streets and wide center walkway, with stalls selling everything from birds to flowers to appliances, and food. Just off Las Ramblas is the spectacular, dark Gothic Quarter with winding stone streets too narrow for most cars and stunning gothic buildings dating back to Roman times. Now it’s Barcelona’s turn to suffer this scourge.
In less than a week a driver of a van or car has plowed through pedestrians, maiming and killing people. It is becoming an increasingly scary world where an individual needs only a vehicle to commit a horrendous terroristic act. Although such events are documented as far back as the ’80’s they started becoming more numerous in 2014 with the Jerusalem Vehicular Attack, and more recently in in places including Nice, Berlin, Ohio State, London and Paris.
Barcelona in the Catalan province over the past many years has seen more than its share of protests and violence. Its people speak Spanish but they also proudly speak the Catalan language. They have wanted for years to become a separate country. Their defiance during the Franco period led to considerable suffering and violence. There have been other terrorist attacks in Spain including the 2004 Madrid train bombings which killed 192 people and injured around 2,000.
Of course it’s not really personal. What happened in Barcelona was one or two persons driving onto the center walkway highly populated with pedestrians and just mowing them down, whoever they were. In Charlottesville the vehicular terrorist may not have known the people individually but he recognized them as counterprotestors.
Nonetheless, this type of attack is particularly insidious. It costs little but it can harm and kill many. In the Nice truck attack there were 86 fatalities and 486 injured. It is hard to prevent because it doesn’t require a cell of conspirators talking to each other, googling and buying bombs and weapons, just a single individual acting on an impulse and striking randomly.
In New Jersey we have been fortunate so far. However, with a Trump administration which enables hate groups, with ISIS which remains a threat, and with known hate groups in our state, we should be vigilant. These events can take place almost anywhere – particularly where large numbers assemble and where a vehicle can easily mow them down.
As of this afternoon The Guardian says there are 13 confirmed deaths in Barcelona and a suspect of Moroccan descent has been identified. Unlike Charlottesville, where Trump dithered about “many sides” and later stated both groups are to blame, Spain’s President Mariano Rajoy immediately suspended his vacation and went to Barcelona. “They won’t terrorize us,” the Spanish royal family said, condemning the assault. European leaders including those of England, France and Germany voiced immediate solidarity with Spain.