There is a place in Barcelona, next to the Basilica Santa María del Mar, where an eternal flame arches over a unique, concave public square, in honor of all who have sacrificed to defend the ancient laws of Catalunya. It is a place to reflect on what makes people behave selflessly in service of others.
To me, that eternal flame marks a place where you feel the message, that being of service is more noble than taking from the innocent.
Walking through there, I would always feel my body tense with respect for human solidarity in the face of tragedy and injustice, and feel my soul relax and open, knowing we are moving, ever more, as a world, toward a condition where tyranny and violence never constrain human sovereignty.
Some will treat a rash of inexplicable and evil killings as evidence that we are not moving toward that better, freer, more dignified condition. It is wrong to give power to terror in that way, and the pessimistic magnetizing of despair leads to the wrong conclusions.
I have known and admired the city of Barcelona for more than half my life. I know I am not the only one who felt, almost immediately upon arriving, that I was stepping into a place that could be home.
The city is uniquely characterful and inviting.
Barcelona is a capital of human artistry and creativity. It is as much the epicenter of Catalan culture and a port where information, art, architecture, trade, and tourism mix to welcome all people from everywhere. It is an example of the flexible ongoing collective vigilance that makes democracy possible.
The right to inhabit a peaceful environment, to be a constructive expression of our free selves in doing so, is the fundamental guarantee we all sign on for by participating in any civilization. Using a road, drinking clean water, expecting that some fairly elected body of lawmakers will fairly define and defend our rights… all of it goes back to the mutual commitment to freedom from the tyranny of mortal violence.
Barcelona is an open city. Its great and beautiful virtue, what makes it an object of love for so many people from so many places, is its openness—the characterful, relaxed, stylish way in which the city invites the visitor to experience the beauty of well-lived moments with good people.
Because of this, and in the wake of the incomprehensible violence that now marks its most famous pedestrian market street, it is necessary to say out loud: Barcelona som tots—in Catalan: Barcelona is all of us.
Charlottesville has shown us that the struggle between free societies and terror is not a religious or ideological or civilizational struggle. It is a struggle against the darkness that allows people who justify their attraction to hate so they can feel free to kill innocents.
Neither Charlottesville nor Barcelona are in themselves connected to this struggle in any particular way, except that they are both beautiful places full of good people who do honest work and treat others with decency. They both stand for human freedom, dignity and equality before the law. They both exemplify in their own way that knowledge and creative collaboration give light to the world and crowd out hate and prejudice.
A close friend who lives in Charlottesville likes to say it is an example of open community-level democracy, where people’s crafts and skills are part of a fabric of mutual support, and the betterment of local life is a shared undertaking. A vision of the world dreamed of by Thomas Jefferson, in that part of himself that wrote into the first draft of the Declaration of Independence that slavery was an evil that must be abolished everywhere before anyone could be free.
Barcelona has 1,000 years of history of organized, representative democracy, going back to late medieval times. Under this ancient laws of Catalunya, even kings were elected—by the Council of 100, who represented constituencies as diverse as landed aristocracy, trade guilds, and dock workers. The people of Barcelona resisted the fascist takeover of Spain to the bitter end, and were punished by cultural persecution, enslavement, and military occupation.
And yet, during the murderous Franco regime, the Catalán resistance defied authoritarian rule, calling out for political freedom and denouncing violent oppression. The city has long been a beacon of the basic human aspiration for shared freedom and rule of law.
The armed gangs that sought to intimidate the good people of Charlottesville and the terrorist who killed Heather Heyer for standing up to them, seem to be the same kind of deviants as those who attacked Barcelona and Cambrils.
They use violence to harm people who don’t need violence to feel they are safely part of the world. The attackers in Spain are not enemies of ‘The West’ but enemies of all humanity. The violent hate-fueled militia that converged on Charlottesville are not defenders of any ‘heritage’; they are enemies of human freedom, dignity, and the rule of law.
In the aftermath of the attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona, it falls to all of us to remember: no person is free unless all are safe from violence and intimidation, at all times.
We stand with the good people of Barcelona, and with the spirit of openness and legitimate government that makes the city an example of what is best in human civilization. Our collective future depends on following that example and ensuring extremist terror has no friends, no allies, no foothold, no way to distract us from meaningful, liberating, inclusive self government.