Solidarity Seems to be the Hardest Word
'Je suis Paris'. 'I am Ankara'. 'Pray for Jakarta'. 'Pray for Brussels'.
There is incredible sorrow in the horrific scenes of the terrorist attacks that we have seen over and over again. Questions that need to be answered. The fears of not just a nation but an entire continent that has been so bound together in international security, pitted against a mobile terrorist group with a single purpose to its attacks: to disrupt the state of affairs, to cause us to question our actions, measures, ideology, and not in a good way.
But as a citizen of the world (or so I'd like to think), we can no longer take peace and safety for granted. These thoughts are not just mine. The Internet today is rife with messages on social media all expressing the same thoughts. Last month when I was packing my luggage for a trip to Europe, I caught myself doing something I'd never done before: packing a sort of survival kit in ziplock bags, in case the plane crashed or some other nightmarish scene happened.
Image courtesy of Jurnal Asia
I have to admit that the attack at Brussels hit me hard, as hard as the bombings in Paris and Jakarta. If I were to be brutally honest with myself, I would say that I didn’t relate as deeply to the other attacks as with these three. And I feel incredibly guilty for it, because it suggests I care more about my neighbouring archipelago than Ankara and Istanbul.
I have to point out that it's not because they matter less to me, but because I've friends in Brussels, Paris, Indonesia. The association and fear of "it could have devastated my friends" is a powerful tool that drives the human state. For that, I apologise to the many other countries who have suffered the onslaught of a mindless terror machine, but have been ignored in the press. We, members of the media, have not done enough to direct the conversation into bringing out your international presence. Every life matters, and they should matter equally. Unfortunately, terrorists don’t seem to think like that.
Image by KESS InHouse
It's heartwarming to see Belgians not shut their doors on those who need assistance during this time. The hashtag '#ikwilhelpen' ('I want to help' in Dutch) began trending as people opened their homes to those stranded due to the city shutdown, much like what happened in Paris with the '#PorteOuverte' on the night of November 13.
But at the same time, a darker tone of xenophobia is also revealing itself online, with foolish individuals attempting to paint all who follow the Islamic faith with the same brush. There are calls for people of the faith to be removed. They don't seem to realise that a cycle of what drives people toward the extremism of Daesh is the experience of being ostracised by the society that has adopted you.
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People ask why there are many who have joined the caliphate. It’s partly because many of them are angry and isolated. Their anger should be directed toward Daesh and the damage that religious terrorism has caused towards the general public’s opinion of Islam. But it’s the ostracising they feel in their European homelands that creates an emotional impact in their lives. A lack of belonging, one where many of them feel their culture, which is deeply intertwined with their religion, is being repressed by “Western forces”, with no opportunity to negotiate a middle ground or explain why they have to do certain things. That frustration turns to anger. This feedback loop goes on and on.
I'm not justifying the actions of any terrorist group, or suggesting that Europe caused the violence taking place on the continent right now. No one does. No civilian should have to live with the fear that each day might be his last, whether in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq or in Belgium. Soldiers are trained to fight and understand that their actions lead them directly into the path of danger; that's the risk they've chosen to take. To inflict that sort of terror on an innocent civilian is unacceptable.
The attackers chose Brussels for a reason. Not only does it represent the heart of Europe (both the EU headquarters as well as NATO are located there), Belgium has always been rather segmented between the Flemish speaking north and the French-speaking south. And further within Brussels is an isolated Muslim community that is dealing with high youth unemployment and disenfranchisement. This was a metaphorical strike to the heart of continental Europe. But Daesh struck with the aim of inciting further phobia, in the hopes that politicians will act out even more against Islam, and drive more to their cause.
It’s true that religious terrorism is spread by every religion in the world, both in the past and present. It’s also true that terrorism in the name of Islam is currently the most often-seen. But this fervour to leap into jihad can be prevented, or at least changed, if we can bring the disenfranchised back into the fold. Inclusion is the surest way towards integration and unity. Even as countries scramble to secure their borders, hearts and minds can be opened. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. The only way to do that is to prevent them from vilifying us, and vice versa.
There are those who want to build walls around them and run into a fortified home for security. It’s convenient, and walls offer the sense of a nice protective space. But walls also isolate and separate. They add to hate and the fear of the unknown. I’m reminded of this video at the memorial for the Paris attacks. Resilience isn’t at odds with kindness and compassion. We can have both. We need them both more than ever.
P.S. This article does not represent the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of my employer. It is solely my opinion.