Europe woke up today to terrible news pouring out from Brussels about twin explosions at the airport, followed by an explosion at the metro station in the heart of the city. ISIS would eventually claim responsibility for the attack that took about 30 innocent lives and wounded over 200, and terrorized an entire country. «No metro, no train, no planes… cell phone calls don’t go through, streets are deserted, it’s like the Apocalypse», tweeted David Kenner of Foreign Policy.
Although an official claim of responsibility would come hours later, the early facts already pointed to ISIS – the attacks were coordinated and reflected a level of organization; the targets were chosen to be highly visible and disruptive. But perhaps above all, the attacks came only four days after Salah Abdelsalam, an extremist tied with the Paris attacks, was arrested in Brussels.
The unwritten rule when such tragic situations strike is not to aggravate an already inflamed atmosphere by commenting too quickly, and to allow the facts to build a picture before providing analysis – but populists often break this rule, and Trump had to lead the fray. In one of the earliest reactions to the attack, he commented that he’d «shut down the borders» (!).
Trump’s commentary was unsurprising – but it betrays an outdated paradigm that assumes that today’s terror threats are foreign and «out there», when the sad, troubling fact is that they’re mostly homegrown. While many facts are still missing, it’s likely that, like the earlier Paris attacks, this isn’t a European 9/11 where foreigners infiltrated and attacked «the West»; rather, it’s more likely another European 7/7, where radicalized European Muslims attacked Europe.
While the vast majority of European Muslims are well-integrated, productive, regular citizens, it’s worth noting that radicalization numbers are far higher in Europe than they are in the Arab world. Taken proportionately, there are nearly 800 Belgian ISIS fighters per million Belgian Muslims –far higher, with few exceptions, than most Muslim majority countries.
The coming days will bring a lot of more details, and much of the analysis will be understandably passionate and angry. But once everyone’s anger, fear, and disgust subsides, if there’s anything to remind ourselves of, it’s that this problem can’t be disowned or exported any more. These terrorists are not «foreigners» from «out there» – these are products of these very societies.
We will need to grapple with this question: Why do so many European Muslims not feel European? It’s a question directed at both European society at large and European Muslims in particular – after all, it’s a shared responsibility and probably a shared failure – but above all, it’s a shared destiny.
The writers TED-talk at Oslo Freedom Forum: