I had to spend some time at Madrid's Chamartin station recently, waiting for a train to bring me back to Galicia on my way home from Britain. Sitting minding my own business, I was approached by a middle-aged woman who tried to sell me some car air-fresheners. "I'm homeless. Sleeping in the car. This is my only income."
Being on my way home from Gatwick, I had no cash at all, save for a few British coins. She took these anyway, 'for the luck they'll bring', and then sat down to engage me in conversation. I indulged her because I wasn't going anywhere for some time and I figured she'd be sick of people moving away from her, telling her they didn't want her wares, generally trying to ignore her. A few minutes' company would cost me nothing further.
We chatted about Galicia - the food, the places she'd been, its beauty, the current forest fires. But it didn't take her long to warm to what she really wanted to talk about - Muslims. Now bear in mind that this was before the attacks in Catalonia. Somehow she connected people working on farms in Galicia with a giant conspiracy to poison our food, citing the recent contaminated eggs scandal as 'proof' of her claim.
She also told me about the multiple parts of London that police 'won't go into' because it's 'too dangerous' because of 'all the Muslims'. On this I was at least able to convince her of the fact that it's, frankly, bollocks, because I lived in London for 25 years so have a rather better picture of the city than her. The problem is, though, that she held this to be a fact and certainly isn't alone in doing so. I did, in the end, tire of trying to reason with her, and excused myself to go to the gents. She saw me some time later and waved at me cheerfully but I was left feeling a bit depressed at the conversation.
So, oddly, as well as the visceral horror that you always feel in response to such attacks, I found myself thinking of her when the news broke of what was going on in Barcelona and Cambrils. No doubt this would only be, for her, further 'proof' of how Muslims are to blame for all our ills. My fear that she's not alone in her views was borne out in the response of a few people - and I'll come back to this because it's important - a few people, to the attacks. One person posted a picture of one of our village's most important assets, the open-air swimming pool, on the internet, citing it as the best of the best because for miles around you 'can't see a Muslim'.
This dreadful comment, with its attendant image of the pool and by extension the town, found its way on to a website called, essentially, 'that's how it is in Spain.com'. The long string of appalled responses to the original thought didn't, of course, garner the same publicity. It's so much easier to get the clicks with the outrageous stuff than with the reasonable stuff, after all.
So what we have here is a pair of facing mirrors, reflecting their own twisted views back on each other into infinity. The warped interpretation of a peaceful religion for terrorist ends provokes the attack in the first place. It's reflected with, in some quarters, an Islamophobia which stupidly blames an entire religion for the actions of a few murderous dickheads. (I don't recall many assuming all Irish people were terrorists during the days of the IRA bombing Britain - we kind of all knew it was just a few evils doing what they do). That response is then reflected and magnified such that people think, for example, that Galicians hate Muslims. So it goes, recapitulating its own hatred until you can't see the real picture any more.
The far more widespread response has, of course, been much more balanced. The same defiance from Catalonia that came from London, from Paris etc. The same refusal to take the easy way, to bow to hatred and in doing so give the terrorists exactly what they want. It's a few people murdering innocents. It's a few people hating all of their religious brothers as a result. And it's a few people with internet access, or mass-media access, that are showing us only little snapshots of all of this and presenting us with their own, twisted versions of reality.
I can only hope that, as appears at least to be the case from my own experience talking to people here, that the filters of common humanity that the vast majority seem to have, which inform and moderate their responses to such things, remain in place if ever they see themselves caught in this mise en abyss.
(I use the Anglicised form of Catalunya/Cataluña simply because I write in English. No offence or other meaning is intended or suggested by its use as such.)