On March 22, 2016, three explosions took place in Brussels. Two bombs went off in the departure hall of Brussels’ Zaventum Airport at around 8 AM local time. One bomb exploded at the Maalbeek Metro station, an hour after the ones in the airport. At least 31 people died in the attack, and more than 300 were injured.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has confirmed that the bombs were terrorist attacks, as the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks in Brussels. This terrorist attack came just a few days after the only surviving suspect of the November Paris attacks was arrested in the Belgian capital. The suspect, Salah Abdeslam, told officials that more attacks were on way in Belgium. According to Belgian authorities, the two men involved in the cruel attack in Brussels have been identified as brothers, Brahim and Khalid El-Bakhraoui, but nothing has been confirmed of the third suspect.
Senior Samir Agadi ’16 was at the Brussels Airport only a few days before this tragic bombing occurred. “After [the bombing], it was a little rattling. [My parents and I] use that airport often and to see it attacked was bad. I think the security does need to increase and improve. Hopefully this can be stopped,” he reflected.
This most recent bombing of Brussels marks Europe’s third large-scale terrorist attack in the past 15 months. TIME reported that the “cycle of violence” started in Brussels in May 2014, when three people were killed by a French fighter from ISIS at a Jewish Museum. The attack that terrorized the world next was the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, followed by an attack at a free-speech forum in Denmark, the Paris attacks at the Bataclan and the Stade de France, and now, the attack on Brussels. These are the terrorist attacks that occurred only in Europe.
Throughout Europe, around 185 people have been killed, and the entire continent with a population of more than 500 million people has been left terrified. Previous terrorist attacks have been influenced or inspired by ISIS, which makes them all the more frightening as the government realizes they are first and foremost fighting against a homegrown radicalized youth. Reports indicate that ISIS has directly carried out 75 terrorist attacks in 20 countries outside Syria and Iraq. Some point to their gradual loss of territories in Iraq and Syria, and that they have lost control over 22% in the past 15 months – reportedly 8% in just the past three months. This statistic could potentially be celebrated, but some analysts correctly predicted that it could signal a beginning of a desperate ISIS looking to induce fear and terror in foreign nations; unfortunately, Brussels was chosen.
Yet, why was Brussels the city of attack? Why now? The truth is, these cities were not just chosen randomly: Paris and Brussels are cities with the strongest recruitment bases for foreign jihadist fighters. Since 2012, more than 400 people left Belgium for ISIS, making Belgium the source for the highest number of foreign jihadist fighters relative to the population. Denmark has the second-highest number of foreign fighters per capita. And in absolute terms, nobody beats France: more than 1,200 people have travelled to Iran and Syria from France since 2012. The isolated and radicalized Muslim community in these countries have made them prime targets for ISIS operations.
The refugee crisis that is still underway has further damaged Europe’s cohesion and unity. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, effectively Europe’s most significant leader, struggles at home due to her stance of accepting refugees that are coming over at an increasing rate. Her latest deal with Turkey will allow 76 million Turkish citizens to move freely around Europe, in exchange for housing Syrian refugees outside of the EU. Deals with a largely Muslim country, such as this one, will only make Europeans more paranoid and likely to enforce some level of border control like France. The Schengen Agreement, which allows for the free travel of people, goods, and services across 26 European countries, seems to be threatened by this new development.
Yet, that’s not the only problem facing Europe right now. If U.K. chooses to leave the EU, the tenuous union will become weaker and encourage ISIS in its plans to destabilize the continent. Destabilizing by trying to further the narrative of ISIS versus the West, a great war between ideologies of the 21st century. Unfortunately, European leaders and American leaders have done everything they can to fall into their narrative by suggesting ideas ranging from only accepting Christian refugees to the complete blockade of all Muslims coming into the country. Earlier in 2016, students of Loomis Chaffee attended a convocation about Islamophobia by Ms. Ludmila Zamah about how effortlessly the narrative is being pushed by both sides, almost as if both want this clash equally as much.
Lastly, the selective outrage of the media in the past 15 months as terrorist attacks has not only struck Europe, but also Asia and Africa in much larger frequency and magnitude, from Nigeria, where Boko Haram killed 80 people on January 30, to the attacks in Lahore that killed 70, that reportedly targeted Christians on Easter. Mr. Dyreson, associate director of the Alford Center for Global and Environmental Studies, urges, “We need to challenge the news sources when it comes to media, and that we must really dig in and research before making assumptions or telling suggestions. There is a powerful and vast internet use that to be critical researchers and don’t fall into the trap of always following the narrative the media portrays.”
Ultimately, the attack in Brussels and other global tragedies have created an atmosphere of fear. Now, we must be thoughtful of the people who lost their lives and work towards making a difference in these testing times.