Brussels Attacks: Why Europe?

March 23, 2016 Updated: March 24, 2016
FONT BFONT SText size

What goes on in the mind of a suicide bomber? What motivates someone to spend their last day on the planet blowing up complete strangers? Bad enough, perhaps, if the strangers in question are soldiers, police, or other representatives of the state. But holidaymakers and commuters?

It takes a special sort of alienation, radicalization, and dehumanization to think that the people standing next to you in the check-in line merit being randomly dismembered.

It takes a special sort of alienation, radicalization, and dehumanization to think that the people standing next to you in the check-in line merit being randomly dismembered.

One assumes that the growing number of people who volunteer for these sorts of missions are confident that they are off to paradise. Given that they won’t live to see the results of their zealotry, the logic must be in some way transcendental, and not one available to rational scrutiny or dissuasion by the rest of us.

Either way, if paradise is going to be full of ex-jihadists I’m rather glad I’m not going.

In the meantime, back on earth, the effectiveness of this suicidal strategy is all too clear and painful, especially for those directly affected. Even for the rest of us, the net result is to add yet another level of depressing tedium to our day-to-day existence, as security is increased to ever-higher levels.

Related Coverage
Brussels Attacks: Why Europe?Belgium’s Lack of Terrorism Intelligence Before the Attack ‘Shocking’
Video: Brussels Ran TV Ad Bragging That It Had No Problems With Terrorism

No doubt we ought to be grateful to have the opportunity to travel around Europe or spend a long lunch enjoying a bit of intellectual chitchat in a Parisian café, as I did today. I am—very.

This is, as they say, just about as good as it gets. And that is rather the point of the attacks on the symbolic heartland of Europe as a civilization and—in today’s case [March 22]—as an institution.

The freedom of association, expression, and thought that is such a distinctive feature of European intellectual and social life is clearly resented by an alarmingly large group of people. Such hitherto taken for granted freedoms are directly threatened by the randomness of terrorism. Last week, for example, I had to get in line to have my passport checked on re-entering France—despite arriving from another Schengen area country.

Yes, I realize this is an especially privileged sort of problem and one that evokes little sympathy. But it is another very real manifestation of Europe’s steadily shrinking public space. One doesn’t need to be a starry-eyed cosmopolitan to recognize that passport-free travel is one of Europe’s greatest practical and symbolic achievements.

It takes a particular sort of confidence in one’s neighbors to make such an idea feasible. The Schengen agreement was unlikely to survive the migration crisis; terrorist outrages may seal its fate.

What this suggests is that noble ideas, admirable principles, and feelings of human solidarity may only be possible under particular, possibly unique, and historically unrepeatable circumstances.

The European project emerged from the greatest trauma that continent has ever known. It ought to be remembered that today’s problems pale into insignificance beside them. Europeans have made remarkable progress over the last 50 years or so—in every sense of the term. It is no wonder so many people want to live there.

And yet it is also painfully apparent that such achievements are being steadily eroded and undermined. EU President Donald Tusk’s suggestion that European solidarity will be a vital part of the response to these events looks like well-intentioned wishful thinking.

The reality seems to be that there are sufficiently large numbers of people in Europe who are prepared to die and slaughter others in an effort to undermine Europe’s greatest achievements. There is, it seems, very little that can be done to stop them.

Depressingly, there is also no basis for negotiation with zealots who think they are on a mission from God. It’s not even clear—to me, at least—quite what the suicide bombers hope their deaths will actually achieve or what the big plan is.

It’s hard not to think that some of the animus directed toward European civilization is fueled by a resentment of just how agreeable and successful it has been for those fortunate enough to be part of it.

No doubt some will consider such views as naive and Eurocentric. Yes, the French did dreadful things in Algeria, and the Belgians did worse in the Congo.

But even if this is construed as some sort of post-imperial blowback, it looks a bit late, ludicrously out of proportion, and unlikely to do anything other than to make life in Europe miserable, too. But perhaps that’s ultimately the point.

Mark Beeson is a professor of international politics at the University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.