Comment | The Brussels Attacks: Our pain and rage are immense, but we need reason and understanding more than ever

Frank Barat reflects on today's attacks on his city, and argues that only more understanding can defeat terrorism and its root causes.

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 16:53 - 18 Comments

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Brussels - Getty

Brussels | Tuesday 22nd March 2016

The second day of Spring in my hometown, Brussels, started like any other day. I took the kids to school and nursery this morning, then went to work. Or, rather, came back home, where most of my work is done these days. For two years, I’d been working at offices near the European Parliament, but I prefer working from home now, especially in days like today: The sky is blue and the sun is shining. Sitting in front of my computer, I looked outside at the trees, listening to the singing birds.

Then my brother called.

He had just taken a couple of good friends to Brussels’s Zaventem airport. They were already on their plane, waiting on the tarmac, when they heard two loud bangs at around 8am. They jumped in their seats. “Nowadays, you get scared from so little”, they joked to one another. What they did not know was that Brussels National airport, a few dozen yards away, had just been hit by suicide bombers and that many, many people, were already dead or seriously injured.

I switched on the TV, and, like most people in these situations, got glued to it. The images and the videos started to appear on mainstream media feeds, battling and fighting to be the first one to show “the horror”, “the panic” and “the destruction”. The Belgian police and government decided to be very -nay, extremely- cautious. “We cannot say yet that this was a terrorist attack”. The mainstream media followed the same line. Everybody else knew that, caution or not, Brussels had just been victim of what will turn out to be the biggest terrorist attack in the city’s history.

A few minutes later, news arrived that an explosion had just been heard at Maelbeek metro station, in the European Quarter, very close to where I used to work and to where many of my former colleagues and friends still exert their professions. I spent the next few hours answering calls, emails and messages to tell everyone that I and my family were safe, while at the same time trying to find out if all my friends were OK too. They were. Unfortunately, many others lost their lives, thirty four at the time of writing, and many more -hundreds- were injured, some very seriously. While there has not been any official confirmation of the perpetrators, the New York Times has just reported that ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.

My oldest kid is 5 years old. Since the Paris attacks a few months back, he has been repeatedly asking questions about the meaning of the words ‘terrorism’, ‘massacre’, ‘army’ and ‘bombs’. He has noticed the presence of soldiers in the streets of Brussels in the past days. Coming back from school the day after Saleh Abdelsam was arrested, a few miles from where we live, he watched the helicopters circling the blue sky above us and police stopping people on the streets. “We are lucky to have them”, he told me, “because the others wanted to kill us”.

I thought of something to say for a moment, then looked at him, and changed the subject. Deep down, I knew that as long as we bury our heads in the sand, as long as we do not face a problem that seems more existential by the day, what happened in Brussels on Tuesday, will happen, again and again, more ferociously, everywhere in the world. I think of it like I think of global warming. If you do not try to understand where it is coming from, and try to fight it, at its roots, try to make the sacrifices it requires and the changes it needs, the storms will become more fierce and the hurricanes and the tsunamis will destroy everything in their paths.

To stop this drift towards self-destruction we, as a human race, need to ask the tough questions, and speak truth to power. We, collectively, need to ask ourselves why some young men and women, born and raised in Brussels, with family and friends here, many with jobs and even businesses in the city, turned into terrorists and suicide bombers, very often in a matter of a couple of years. Despite the rage that we are feeling today, we must try to think rationally and try to understand, which is very different from condoning, what led them to commit such terrible and heinous crimes. It will not help anyone, and it will definitely not save future lives, to be hateful ourselves, to ask for revenge and demand ‘an eye for an eye’. The perpetuation of the cycle of violence has to stop. The racist rhetoric of “they do not love life the way we do”, is utter nonsense and needs to be carefully refuted.

Today’s attackers embarked on a path towards death, but when they woke up this morning, the sun was shining and the sky was blue for them, too. The terrible crimes they committed may have made sense to them, and to their twisted vision of the world, but I struggle to believe that anyone could kill another human being for fun, for the sake of it. Their journey from disfranchised youth to murderous terrorists is one that we need to study, seriously, step by step, to move forward and hope for a better future for society as a whole.

If you read the “biographies” of the Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan, and the Brussels attackers, one similar fact keeps popping up: Their extreme and fast process of radicalisation started in prisons, not mosques. As such, it is time for us to address what Angela Davis calls the Prison Industrial Complex. The evidence is compelling that prison definitely does not “heal” people or help them re-integrate into a society that has often failed them. Quite the contrary. It is also time to look at the policies of European governments towards immigrant youth, who are  very often, from the earliest age, vilified for every problem their societies face.

We need to speak truth to power. We need to challenge our governments and the decision-makers every step of the way. For our own sake.

If you look at what happened in France and Belgium, if you study all the footage and read all the media reports and analyses, you will realise most of them focus on “security”, “militarisation” “hitting back” and “war”. Only a few are concentrating on what the terrorists said or wrote. Why did they do it? What did they say while doing it? If you read these – not something you’ll find easily with a Google search – you will realise that all the attackers are talking the same language. They were politically educated out of the destruction of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, the drones bombing in Pakistan, Yemen, the torture of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and the colonisation and occupation of Palestine. While most identified themselves as Muslims, they also said they were horrified by the ideological war the West has carried out against what it wrongfully calls “the Muslim world”. This is the main motivator behind them becoming killers. “Your wars, our deaths” became a slogan after the Paris attacks. It might not be totally accurate, and we definitely cannot simplify things, but there is a lot of truth in it.

What is certain is that the people in power, despite telling us that they want to protect us, actually care very little about the safety of their citizens. The response of the Belgian authorities following the Charlie Hebdo and the Paris attacks was to put thousands of soldiers on the streets and raise the security alert. Despite this, and the massive and pretty much unlimited funding that the intelligence services enjoy, two of the most obvious targets for terrorists, an airport and the metro system, were hit. It can only be called what it is, an utter failure on their parts, both in their overall strategy and in the specific response they adopted to “defeat terror”.

We know, for example, that the real people fighting ISIS at the moment are the Kurds in Kobane and other cities. We know that helping and supporting them, while cutting the route of ISIS’s oil to Turkey, would deal a huge blow to the so called Islamic State. Are we doing it? Not at all, quite the opposite in fact, supporting Turkey, a key actor, despite its murderous policies on the ground. We also know the role that Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive states in the world, plays in the region, through its funding of corrupt and dangerous ideologies. Are we doing something against it? For sure we are, France just gave the future Saudi King, Mohammed Ben Nayef, its highest honour, the “Legion d’honneur” a few days ago. These constant double standards, and the lies our governments offer in their defence, need to be challenged. They create rancour and hate.

This time, we are going to need more than demonstrations, we are going to have to do more than putting the Belgian flag as a profile picture on Facebook, we are going to need more that GIFs, tweets and petitions. What we need is a total, radical and deep rethinking of the way we see society, of how we see each other within it, of who makes decisions on our behalf. In short, a spiritual and philosophical revolution is what it required.

Otherwise, what will I tell my son next time?

Frank Barat

Frank Barat is Coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, and the author of “Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians” with Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe. His new book, 'Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement', with Angela Davis, is out now.  He tweets at: @fbarat1

18 Comments

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Vivek Jain
Mar 22, 2016 18:50

Have you seen the video of the supposed leader of the US (Obama) being necklaced by the grateful Saudi dictator? Who bears primary responsibility for the displacement of millions of our Sisters and Brothers? How many countries have been attacked and destabilized by the governments of Washington, London, and Paris, and the weapon of NATO? How many millions of people have been victimized by the US ruling class’ terrorism? What responsibilities do civilians of the USA have?

Vivek Jain
Mar 22, 2016 18:52

James Petras has been right about so many things.

Dave
Mar 22, 2016 19:24

Those of you who are well educated and doing satisfying jobs and living in the bosom of your happy families – you dont understand the jealous HATRED that arises in the breast of someone whos been completely marginalised from such happiness.
You dont understand what it feels like to be labelled scum and treated like dirt just because you have to claim benefits.
You dont understand what it feels like to have no friends – and then to be welcomed with open arms by passioanate people.
Does it matter that their religion, their beliefs and their goals are different? Not if they give LOVE. Not if they make their new friends feel cared for. feel HAPPY at long last!!!!!

You just don’t understand.
Youve said, in this articel that you dont BELIEVE that anyone could kill another human for the fun of it.
It isnt done for fun. It’s done from total DESPAIR which leads to utter FRUSTRATON which leads to pure boiling HATRED. for everybody else.

What can you do about it? You can share out the wealth. You can hug the lonely.
It starts even before prison. It starts in the school.
actually it starts in the heart.

Hana
Mar 22, 2016 20:12

You say that we should be supporting Kurds in Kobane, AKA YPG forces. However, the YPG is actively participating in infighting against ethnic Syrian anti-Assad rebels for rebel-captured land. While they have made progress against ISIS, their opposition to ISIS is only a turf war, seen in the aforementioned fight for land against civil rebels as well. Their ulterior motives are what causes many to be hesitant to support them, especially because their offense against the anti-Assad movement suggests a sympathy towards the Assad regime. It goes without saying that ISIS would not exist if Assad had been removed from power early on, and had never been able to spin Syria into such chaos with his military offense against the original civil, peaceful rebellion. We cannot talk about eradicating ISIS as long as Assad is still in power and as long as Syria is left broken and chaotic as he has made it. The YPG represent the interests of no ethnic Syrians, and their support amongst Kurdish Syrians even varies. The YPG 100% represent separatist Kurds who wish for an independent Kurdistan, with no regards for suffering Syrians in the process. Putting them in such a position of power would be an extremely foolish and dangerous move, especially as their ulterior motives for land in the region become clearer and clearer. As the American daughter of ethnic Syrians who spent a large part of my childhood in Damascus, and still has a large number of family members there, I’ve only witnessed over these past 5 years that the West’s understanding of the Syrian people and the Ba’ath/Assad regime is disturbingly misinformed and innaccurate. And these are the people voting to arm troops and bomb cities!
You also mention the radicalization of Middle Eastern terrorists originates through a hatred of the West. Indeed, it does, but also through a hatred of their own governments. Their hatred extends to the West largely through Western government’s will to work with and support the violent dictators who have made their suffering so. As long as the Assad regime is allowed to continue, as long as the Syrian people’s anguished voices are ignored as they have been for the past 5 years, you will find more and more young Syrians radicalizing. There is no greater recruitment tool for ISIS than Assad himself.

Sandra
Mar 22, 2016 21:12

CAPITALISM UNDURSTOOD LONG AGO THAT WAR IS THE BEST BSNESS OF THE WORLD.
They,ve developed it at an incredible level, while citizens of the world have been watching tele, they train and arm the terrorist. All death is for capitalism only colateral dammage.

Lemak Enamir
Mar 22, 2016 22:29

Thank you for being amongst the few who think rather than let the media do it for them.

You seem rational and compassionate yet you have not mentioned the Turkish victims of the recent bombing in Ankara nor the Lebanese just weeks before the Paris Attack. Surely we like to think, or at least try to think rationally but why do we ask these questions only when the dirt hits the fan that’s the nearest to us? Are we rational or not?

I’m not fond of the Turkish government but i’m not fond of the French, British or German neither for their proven rotten foreign policies which are the main cause of these wars and the mess in the middle east.

We befriend apartheid entities the way we have done so in the 1980 in South African, we sell arms to rogue states that enforce apartheid, we impose sanctions on those we dislike and support regime change in many parts of the Arab world yet we speak of democracy and human rights as our “civilized” values.

Some of us maybe trying hard to be rational and objective but I still think that our hypocrisy speaks louder than our thinking.

Yours.

Greg
Mar 22, 2016 23:25

‘The perpetuation of the cycle of violence has to stop’

‘…the real people fighting ISIS at the moment are the Kurds…We know that helping and supporting them…would deal a huge blow to the so called Islamic State.’

So proxy wars and geopolitical gerrymandering whilst we sit back a liberally pontificate ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood.’

Why stop at the Kurds? Hezbollah, Assad and the IRG could use a hand also.

Unfortunately in the real world solutions are multifaceted, at times unpalatable and almost always beyond the ken of a 5 yr old.

If you read these ‘martyrdom’ letters, give agency to the young men who wrote them and not patronise them as ignorant dupes forced into this nihilistic path, then you see an essentialist desire for purity and purpose that has at times infected zealots amongst all of the worlds ‘great’ religions.

A combination of robust theological persuasion and concerted pan-regional action will be the only way to draw the poison. This won’t happen until wider actors such as Saudi, Turkey and Iran (and of course US and Russia) have agreed a balance of power in the Middle East.

Until then, although the fight against racism and social injustice is an absolute necessity to build a decent society for all of our children, it won’t make the blindest bit of difference to these young men intent on glory. Sometimes we are bystanders in the annals of history, Europe must accept it’s on the periphery and weather the storm.

Asking questions about Brussels – New Unity Progressive Party
Mar 23, 2016 9:49

[…] Writer and human rights advocate Frank Barat–co-author with Angela Davis of Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement, coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and a previous contributor to SocialistWorker.org–lives in Brussels. He wrote this reflection on how to respond to the bombings hours after the attacks took place–it was first published at Ceasefire magazine. […]

Lieven
Mar 23, 2016 15:51

There’s two misinformations in this article:
1. The picture chosen and undertitled along is incorrect.
It is the scenery at the back entrance of Antwerp’ Central Station, which has been more or less like this since Paris: four army trucks parked while the soldiers they carry patrol the streets in pairs.
2. If you try to fit the mentioned ‘thousands of soldiers’ into these four trucks you ‘ll get to a more realistic number of soldiers patrolling Antwerp’ streets on an ‘average’ day – ‘average’ since last november.

Ali
Mar 24, 2016 5:36

This makes sense to me. And then I think about the genocide of so many from hitter to pol pot, rawanda. I don’t think it’s retaliatory mixed with strong and clear beliefs purely. The human mind is a spectrum of wellness to illness. Karma is utterly complex in my belief system. The common thread is ignorance of the truth of interdependence. It ranges from minor to major to extreme. But it’s always been so. My country massacred and genocided the Native Americans and we still celebrate the freaking Pilgrims at Thanksgiving.
This is nothing new. And the evolution of consciousness will take millennium
perhaps longer than we have as a race. Only meditation will cure us as a fundamental process
Just stream of consciousness reflecting …

celine
Mar 24, 2016 10:37

Hana, thank you for you sharing. I totally agree with you. Thank you so much…

The Brussels Attacks: Our pain and rage are immense, but we need reason and understanding more than ever | Idler on a hammock
Mar 25, 2016 0:21

Andrew MacDonald
Mar 25, 2016 2:07

We make “our” deaths important and “their’s” not important. And so the stage is set.
When they’re both honored and mourned a new stage is set.
It’s hard because it’s us that has to change.

Charles Crawford
Mar 25, 2016 11:39

“What we need is a total, radical and deep rethinking of the way we see society, of how we see each other within it, of who makes decisions on our behalf. In short, a spiritual and philosophical revolution is what it required…”

You do understand, I hope, that that’s exactly what the most deranged Islamists and ISIS/ISIL/Daesh demand and seek to impose.

Broadly speaking, there are two choices. One, the secular values of the Enlightenment that focus on the value of the individual and human freedom as ends in themselves. And second, mysticism in one form or other, inevitably imposed by revolutionary terror.

Why do you assume that if there is a ‘total, radical deep rethinking of the way we see society’, the second option won’t prevail? Or is a version of that what you really want, Leftists and ISIS and Hamas and Chavez in one gloriously brutal fleeting ‘anti-capitalist’ explosion of hate before the Dark Ages take over again for a few centuries?

Brussels Attacks: Our Pain and Rage Are Immense, But We Need Reason and Understanding More Than Ever | Stop Making Sense
Mar 25, 2016 12:28

[…] Frank Barat writes for Ceasefire Magazine: […]

Aaron Carine
Mar 26, 2016 21:48

Barat says that the terrorists are after us because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the drones, and Gitmo. Unfortunately for his argument, the terror was going on before any of this happened. And how is Belgium to blame for America’s wars?

The Brussels bombings:  no, Islamist terrorism is not a response to a western war on Islam (with clarification of 27 March) – Brian Barder's website and Ephems blog
Mar 27, 2016 14:36

[…] friend recently passed on to me an article in Ceasefire magazine by a writer who exemplifies many of the psychological inhibitions and compulsions that I […]

Peter Hall
Apr 6, 2016 13:27

Sorry you are completely wrong. You cite marginalization and the prison system, the Belgian people and in essence western Society, for the reason why these people commit terrorism.

Clearly you are self loathing and overlooking and excusing the real causes.

The first mistake is you assume all cultures are equal. The islamic culture is a failed culture. Not Western Culture, the islamic culture.

That is the reason that young Muslims commit terrorism. They are from a failed culture that claims for itself superiority with no basis for such claim. The Muslims of this world have an inherent liability, Islam.

Young Muslims do not end up in jail because they are marginalised, its because of their cultural background.

They are raised to believe they are superior to everybody else, and when confronted with the reality, they act destructively. What want to destroy and blame everybody else who is not a failure.

Muslims come to the Western world to escape Islam, they just don’t understand that is what they really are doing.

Until Islam’s ideology is reformed, and Western Culture refuses to accept excusers and self blamers for the sins inflicted upon us by the failure of Islamic culture, Terrorism will never end.

Unreformed Islam the the cause of terrorism. Apologists for terrorists are perpetuating the problem, for giving Muslims who resort to terrorism the excuse of blaming every other culture, for the utter failure of Islamic culture.

I saw at a rally the other day, of left wing supports a placard that said, “Australians who stand against racism, bigotry, ignorance and anti muslim immigration”

When one considers the inherent bigotry of the Qu’ran, the Racism of Muslims and the fact that 60% of all Muslims are illiterate, it made me think how ironic.

It would be like seeing a sign says “Australians who stand Nazis for peace, anti semitism and anti racism”

Stop making excuses and let’s start holding Muslims accountable, for the Islamic ideology that is the root cause of terrorism. Muslims are by far the biggest victims of Islam.

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