Responding to Brussels

President Obama was in Cuba when suicide bombers killed over 30 people in Brussels, with over 200 injured. The schedule called for the President to attend a ballgame with Raul Castro, and so that’s what he did. So, of course, he was criticized for the bad optics, the President doing the wave in the ballpark while all the news networks were obsessed with terrorism. An Arizona Congressman called it “disgusting” and Ted Cruz opined that the President should have cut the Cuba trip (which he hated anyway, this President going to Cuba) short, and fly to Brussels. Or the White House. Or something.

Guess what? They’re wrong. The President did exactly what he should have done. Except maybe dab a little more mustard on his hot dog, if ballparks in Havana sell hot dogs.

The point of terrorism is to terrorize. Terrorism is a tactic intended to disrupt; it’s what the anarchists used to call ‘propaganda of the deed.’ In Brussels, suicide bombers hit the city’s transportation grid, killed innocent people. That’s horrifying, and it’s meant to be. We’re supposed to feel shocked, angry, appalled, disgusted. And we’re supposed to want revenge. The intent is for the us, the west, the civilized western world, to overreact. Terrorists want us to go after the bad guys. Because they’re trying to disrupt mainstream western society, suspend civil liberties, expose ourselves as the hypocrites they’re convinced we are.

Which is why Ted Cruz’s response to the attacks was so unhinged. He suggested that the United States “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” He also reiterated his intention, if elected, to carpet bomb ISIS territory. That’s a war crime. So is torture, which Donald Trump has recently embraced.

It seems to me that an effective response to terrorist attacks is simple enough. Internationally, ISIS has a disciplined army, occupying territory in eastern Iraq and northern Syria, possibly spreading to Libya. They’re a threat to western interests in the region. Our current efforts are reasonably effective–the territory they control is greatly diminished–and should be continued.

But in Europe, terrorism is essentially a law enforcement issue, and should be treated as such.

Joshua Hersh, writing in The New Republic recently (I’m having a hard time linking to the article, sorry), described the neighborhood of Molenbeek in Belgium, where he spent several months embedded as a journalist. He points to neighborhoods of petty crooks, drug dealers, high unemployment, seedy bars, few opportunities where the terrorists who attacked recently in Brussels came from. Here’s his suggestion:

. . . the answer to the scourge of homegrown terrorism in Europe is not to be found in more abstract notions of defeating radical jihadist ideology, or in militarized responses. It is to be found in the basic tools of routine police work: learning the ins and outs of a tightly knit neighborhood where dozens of people could lend support to a plot, and only a few of whom would know, or care, that it was terrorism.

Or, as a friend of mine on Facebook put it:

Dear Senator Cruz:
I live in a neighborhood populated by Muslim Immigrants. Please do send people to police this area. The kids need more spectators for their football (soccer) games, and someone to teach them the fundamentals of baseball; they suck at it, but they do try. It’s sad, but it’s sweet to watch.
While you’re at it, please send more teachers to the local elementary so the kids aren’t crammed into their class rooms. And maybe that cop could stand at the school bus stop for the older kids so the parents won’t be late to work because they feel they have to protect them. A translator would be welcome as well.
While you’re at it, please strongly encourage their landlords to actually fulfill their contractual obligations and fix the plumbing, electric, structural, and other deficiencies of their apartments.
I think these small things would help their lives be better “like the old days” and to help keep “terrorists” from growing here.
We try in our own way by giving money to charity, but I think they need more help. Perhaps you could.

What we can’t do is overreact. As the Onion helpfully put it:

Growing increasingly tired and frustrated as they pored through tens of hours of footage packed with usable material, members of the militant group ISIS informed reporters Friday that they’ve been struggling to narrow down which GOP debate sound bites to use in their new recruitment video. “We’ve spent days cutting down our video to feature only the most inflammatory anti-Muslim statements that will attract new soldiers of jihad, but it’s still over 40 minutes—no one’s gonna sit through something that long.”

In other words, when we, not just the US, but the broader ‘we’ including the other nations of the west, when we give in to Islamaphobia and the atavistic desire for revenge and retribution, when we talk irresponsibly about blowing things up, we play ISIS’ game by their rules. We give in to terror, precisely what terrorists are trying to get us to do. Relax, watch a ballgame, have some cracker jack. Mourn, sure. Feel; absolutely. Otherwise: Namaste.


One thought on “Responding to Brussels

  1. FWaxel

    Brilliant. Exactly right. Law enforcement is, always has been the right answer, not massive frontal military overkill. And no need to live in fear. Terrorism is not, never has been, an existential threat.


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