ON TUESDAY MORNING, the news from Brussels was horrible and it just kept rolling in. Across the airwaves and across social media, the word “Brussels” became quickly a byword for an evolving horror story.
As is natural in such events, the narrative was at times confused and panicky, as sometimes- contradictory details came in. Gunfire at Brussels Airport, followed by an explosion. Another explosion. Perhaps a third. Then an explosion at Maalbeek Station. Rumours of gunfire and more explosions followed.
Over thirty people dead. Perhaps more.
As RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke remarked while the story unfolded, death tolls don’t tend to get revised downward.
Days after the Brussels attacks, scores of innocent people remain critically injured and Sean O’Rourke’s grim observation won’t likely be disproved in a hurry.
For those of us in Ireland who don’t currently have family or friends in Brussels, I think what many of us felt was dread that the carnage seems to feel more and more inevitable with each attack. Perhaps too there was a fear that the atrocities might be getting closer to home.
It took ISIS, or ISIL or Islamic State (or Daesh, as we should call them if we want to really upset them) most of the day to claim responsibility for the attack on the administrative heart of the EU, but then we all knew instinctively it was them. Against the backdrop of the capture, days before, of Salah Abdeslam, the logistics man behind the November attacks on Paris, who else could it be?
On Twitter, the usual thoughtless eejits were tweeting and retweeting photographs of the dead and dying. As the writer Damien Owens noted, “News of a terror attack is like a Bat-signal for cretins.”
Very quickly the knee-jerk angry and the Islamophobes were being as opportunistic as you would expect and the pub racists were stocking up for their later anti-refugee speeches from the bar.
Then Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty Ireland tweeted: “Primary motive of #Brussels appears to be to spread fear and hate. To give in to either would be handing victory to the attackers.”
Sometimes a tweet just captures the moment. In less than 140 characters, O’Gorman encapsulated the key point we should remember and keep to the forefront of our thoughts as we attempt to come to terms with this latest – but inevitably not the last – terrorist attack on a civilian population.
It’s worth asking what it is that Daesh wished to achieve with this attack. Obviously, this mediaeval death cult – which is what happens when al-Qaeda goes feral and can’t even settle on a name for itself – seeks nothing less than the death of every westerner and the complete and utter annihilation of western civilisation as a whole, but that’s big picture stuff.
In the here-and-now, they want to spread fear as far as they can and they – and their radicalised, disaffected recruits – are willing to do so one suicide bomb at a time.
They also want to do everything possible to ensure that there is never a shortage of those radicalised, disaffected recruits. The best way to make that a certainty is to encourage hatred, suspicion and division. A victory for Daesh would see Muslim citizens even further reviled, harassed and ghettoised in European cities.
Without indulging in victim-blaming, few would argue against the suggestion that Belgium’s home- grown terrorists of Molenbeek are what happens when a society allows a section of itself to become neglected, alienated and vulnerable to the predations of radical religious fanatics.
Here in Ireland, Shaykh Umar al-Qadri, Imam of the Al-Mustafa Mosque in Blanchardstown, has warned repeatedly against extremism and his fear that radicalism might take root here. With thirty Irish teenagers having already left Ireland to fight with Daesh in Syria, it’s hard to easily dismiss the Shaykh’s concerns.
By mid-afternoon on the day of the Brussels attacks, the pub racists were texting the Ray D’Arcy Show – and jumping on “My Homeless Family”’s Erica Fleming’s contribution on homelessness – to claim that it’s an absolute disgrace we can house refugees and not look after our own. (As if people who can pick and choose the beneficiaries of their compassion – in the middle of the greatest refugee crisis since World War II – give a proverbial about ‘our own’.)
Further afield, Donald Trump tweeted:“We’re having problems with the Muslims” and went on to advocate a return to waterboarding and torture as a rational response to, well, to anything.
As usual, Donald Trump worked hard to remind us of H.L. Mencken’s truism that “The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots”.
Trump and his fellow gobdaws to one side, though, we really should look to the future. As sure as night follows day, another attack is inevitable. Even if we can avoid the security failures of Paris and Brussels, Daesh only needs to get lucky once and – horrible as it is to contemplate this – they will get lucky again. The question is whether we want to see them win or not.
A victory for Daesh would be a Europe crippled by fear and suspicion, a Europe where liberty and privacy are undermined in the name of security, a Europe where Muslims are hated, isolated and vulnerable to radicalisation.
A failure for Daesh would be a Europe that is welcoming, multi-cultural and outward-looking, a Europe that values and respects all of its citizens, a Europe where Muslims feel included, integrated and invested in their countries.
It is in all of our interests – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – to ensure that Daesh fails and fails spectacularly.
Donal O’Keeffe is a writer, artist and columnist for TheJournal.ie. You can follow him on Twitter here.