Beppe Fenoglio Partisan and Writer

Beppe Fenoglio – Partisan and Writer. Picture by Jacqueline Poggi on Flickr

A private affair by Beppe Fenoglio is one of those books powerful enough to make it extremely difficult to talk about them. Perhaps I should have waited for Liberation Day on April 25th for this post, since the Italian Resistance isn’t exactly made of the same matter of Easter amenities. It is important to note, however, that the horrible strain of terrorist attacks we have recently witnessed is generating toxic narratives and dangerous word choices, so perhaps a little bit of historical memory can help us look at the present with more unbiased eyes

A private affair is a book that breaks your heart, repeatedly. Not only because of the intellectual honesty to portray the Resistance as a terrible necessity and not like a myth to celebrate, or for the extremely human intensity of the characters: the novel is unfinished and we are orphaned of a story we can only imagine. This book, interrupted by the untimely death of the author, metaphorically recalls all the lives shattered by the war, and is only slightly less heart-wrenching than the Apology of History by Marc Bloch (who was murdered not by cancer, but by a Nazi firing squad).

World War II has left on the 20th century an enormous trail of blood that is impossible not to notice as soon as you begin studying the period. In the European mind, World War II is not a war but the war, as I anticipated in my post on the terrorist attacks in Paris last November.

Yet as we learn directly from Fenoglio’s title, even in the apocalyptic scenario of total conflict on such a  scale, the personal motives of individuals are and remain fundamental in determining the course of events. The reasoning which guided the Nuremberg Trials and a considerable amount of following legislation follows the principle of personal responsibility.

Any forgetfulness in the face of this historical lesson occurs at our peril. Many of the knee-jerk reactions to today’s terrorist attacks appear to dismiss history, at least as far as the European situation is concerned. Other countries in the world are unfortunately living diffused terrorism on a scale that resembles civil war scenarios; but especially in the light of Europe’s violent past throughout the centuries, claiming that Europe today is at war is either misguided or dishonest.

In this last case, the toxic narrative of war on terrorism has substituted the more accurate definition of fight against terrorism; there can be no war where there is no recognized juridical subject. And terrorists are not a recognized juridical subject by definition. If European citizens born and raised in Europe wake up one morning and decide to kill random strangers, it’s a problem of public order motivated by personal reasons. A number of private affairs which thrive on a destructive ideology (and it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about radical Islam or Neo-Nazism).

There is no geopolitical explanation that may absolve these individuals from their personal responsibility; and exactly because the social problem is on the individual level, it is similarly wrong to accuse entire categories (be they refugees, immigrants or Muslims in general) or claim that these attacks are provoked by the foreign politics of the affected nations.

If anything, the root of the problem lies in domestic policies and local administrations allowing marginalized segments of the population to consider extreme gestures (and I find it hard to imagine anything more extreme than a suicide bombing) as the only solution for social payback. Stripping away the ideology, the jihadist that blows himself up in the underground has more in common with the American teenager shooting his classmates than with the Kurdish combatant operating in the framework of a well-defined resistance.

Europe and other nations are facing an enormous problem for public order; and the solution lies inside and not outside its borders. No special laws are required, simply law enforcement doing its job (without political interference). Solving private affairs according to the laws of a democratic state.