Secure the checkpoints. Close the borders. Keep all Muslims out. Is anyone surprised to hear such calls from Donald Trump? The unspeakable horrors of the terrorist bombings today in Brussels strikes fear in all our hearts.
We’re coming up on the third anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. In Greater Boston, we know the chaos and tragedy that come with such devastating nihilistic aggression. For the families of the victims who died and for the scores of victims who live with maimed bodies or PTSD, that act of terrorism goes on to this day. So, too, with those affected by San Bernadino and other terrorist attacks.
Dutch Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders decried this morning what he says are thousands of Europeans who went to Syria to fight with ISIS and returned to European nations to plot and foment trouble. Others have hidden among asylum seekers relocating to Germany, France and elsewhere in Europe. His numbers may be off, but even a fraction of those do mean potential danger for Western nations. Belgian Moroccan Salah Abdeslam, the last of the Parisian terrorists in custody, captured days ago, had traveled freely in Europe. One doesn’t have to be a right-wing hysteric to wonder if the open internal borders of the European Union’s Schengen Agreement may soon become a relic of a more optimistic past. The fallout from this has just begun and could include the demise of the recent EU/Turkish agreement on immigration as well as the British vote on leaving the EU.
Was this attack an act of revenge for Abdeslam’s capture or an acceleration of plans once his attorney appeared to signal he was cooperating with authorities? It certainly establishes (as if it were ever in doubt) that you can rid the world of the head of a terrorist network, but, like the hydra, new heads will regenerate.
Soft targets, where crowds gather in public places, have always been vulnerable. This goes back at least to 1985 when the Abu Nidal Palestinian terrorist organization attacked ticket desks in Rome and Vienna. Airline ticket desks were attacked in Los Angeles in 2002 and Moscow in 2011. Now comes today’s attack at the American Airlines ticket desk in Brussels, clearly a symbolic target with the goal of killing Americans.
This morning, in a statement that echoes Donald Trump, Wilders, one of Europe’s most virulent anti-immigration leaders, declared “The cause of all this bloodshed is Islam. We need to de-Islamize the West. That is the only way to safeguard our lives and protect our freedom.”
Peaceful Muslims worldwide are right to be fearful of the emotions that vitriolic leaders can exacerbate. Too often, the news media fan the flames. Today, American media dutifully rushed to question Trump about border closings, barring Muslims and using torture to get information out of captives like Abdeslam, whipping up still more anxiety in the process. But we all need to be fearful of over-reaction. There’s a pressing need for international collaboration – including Muslim cooperation – and a recallibrated anti-ISIS strategy. We must have level-headed leaders who, buoyed by vigorous intelligence gathering, can determine the most effective way of striking the ISIS asp and killing it.
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