The scariest thing about Brussels is our reaction to it

Mar 29, 2016

Photo credit: Nicolas Maeterlinck/AFP/Getty Images

By Simon Jenkins

Think like the enemy. Let’s suppose I am an Islamic State terrorist. I don’t do bombs or bullets. I leave the dirty work to the crazies in the basement. My job is what happens next. It is to turn carnage into consequences, body parts into politics. I am a consultant terrorist. I wear a suit, not explosives. A blood-stained concourse is a means to an end. The end is power.

This week I had another success. I converted a squalid psychopathological act into a warrior-evoking, population-terrifying, policy-changing event. I sent a continent into shock. Famous politicians dropped everything to shower me with cliches. Crowned heads deluged me with glorious odium.

I measure my success in column inches and television hours, in ballooning security budgets, butchered liberties, amended laws and – my ultimate goal – Muslims persecuted and recruited to our cause. I deal not in actions but in reactions. I am a manipulator of politics. I work through the idiocies of my supposed enemies.

Textbooks on terrorism define its effects in four stages: first the horror, then the publicity, then the political grandstanding, and finally the climactic shift in policy. The initial act is banal. The atrocities in Brussels happen almost daily on the streets of Baghdad, Aleppo and Damascus. Western missiles and Isis bombs kill more innocents in a week than die in Europe in a year. The difference is the media response. A dead Muslim is an unlucky mutt in the wrong place at the wrong time. A dead European is front-page news.

So on Tuesday the TV news channels behaved like Isis recruiting sergeants. Their blanket hyperbole showed not the slightest restraint (nor for that matter did that of most newspapers). The BBC flew Huw Edwards to Brussels. It flashed horror across the airwaves continually for 24 hours, incanting the words “panic”, “threat”, “menace” and “terror”. Vox pops wallowed in blood and guts. One reporter rode a London tube escalator to show possible future targets, to scare the wits out of commuters. It was a terrorist’s wildest dream.

With the ground thus prepared, the politicians entered on cue. France’s President Hollande declared “all of Europe has been hit”, megaphoning Isis’s crime. His approval rating immediately jumped.

David Cameron dived into his Cobra bunker and announced the UK “faces a very real terror threat”. An attack is now “highly likely”, according to the security services. Flags fly at half-mast. The Eiffel Tower is decked in Belgian colours. President Obama interrupts his Cuba visit to stand “in solidarity with Belgium”. Donald Trump declares that “Belgium and France are literally disintegrating”. It is hard to imagine what could more effectively promote the Isis cause.

Source: The Guardian

10 comments on “The scariest thing about Brussels is our reaction to it

  • Blimey O’Reilly, somebody at the Grauniad actually said something coherent, cogent and correct.

    [thumps head on large book]. No, it’s still there, so I’m not dreaming this is really happening.

    The political nightmare, however …

    Since the masses of the people are inconstant, full of unruly desires, passionate and reckless of consequences, they must be filled with fears to keep them in order.

    Polybius (Roman Historian)

    Polybius died in approximately 118 BCE.

    After twenty two centuries the politicians can still pull the same trick on you … come on

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  • Isis is fighting a media war and an economic war and the west are playing straight into its hands. The response that the death of a “few” people killed by a crazy ISIS bomber creates is totally out of proportion when compared to the number of criminal homicides, road deaths, USA shootings etc. The “few” western deaths, caused with very low and cheap technology by ISIS results in a MASSIVE expenditure on security and policing by Western governments.

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  • I thoroughly disagree with Simon Jenkins.

    I think he is the one guilty of hyperbole.

    Yes, Western politicians and journalists made a lot of fuss over the events in Brussels – quite rightly – but it was not an over-the-top reaction. It has not induced panic among Europeans. Nobody is running around hysterical. The vast majority of us are educated and sophisticated enough to understand any political posturing for what it is. We have reacted with absolute calm and dignity. Politicians words are always much more pointed than their actions.

    This doesn’t mean we aren’t outraged. And we’re right to be outraged. And this is why we don’t have anything like as many terrorist atrocities in Europe as in the Middle East. We place much higher value on life and liberty. Our whole societies are set up to protect our quality of life. We are not perfect but we have strong systems in place to deal with this problem, and by and large we do it very effectively.

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  • I couldn’t agree more with you Simon.

    The key concept is, we are well educated and most of us in Europe think things through in a proper manner. We are not so malleable as the average resident in the USA, unfortunately for them. So maybe the author is referring to a reality that is more palpable within that realm.

    Of course it impacts me, and everyone who lives in a free country for that matter, if my daily route to buy fresh bread is suddenly transformed into a potential bombing target that from now on should be considered a death hazard.

    What I criticize about this article is the half story it tells. Because if the problem is well known and established as the author claims, then why not also elaborate on what should be done as a consequence. What do you suggest?

    Will it work if we ignore the bombs at the airport, yeah, that will teach ISIS that we don’t care and then we’ll be safe because ISIS will spontaneously evaporate into thin air over our disregard for their terrorist actions.
    Yeah, lets force the media not to inform anything about this, so that I can get to walk into a Belgium airport one week after an attack, because nothing is safer than not knowing what happened there. If I ignore the atrocities, I’m safe, and ISIS loses. Yeah.

    Think my comment is very sarcastic? Well that is the consequence of telling half a story. People will fill in the gaps.

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  • Europeans are all being calm and intelligent about it? ? The attacks on refugee camps and the rise of neo Nazi responses suggest otherwise.
    What to do about it? Measured response . don’t curtail human rights. Don’t other groups of people. Don’t set the group you identify with apart from everyone else.

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  • @ DanDare I’ve read about a handful of very small scale attacks on refugee camps. These are to be condemned but given the scale of the migrant issue and the Islamic terrorist problem such reactions have been remarkably small (as far as I’m aware).

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  • 9
    fadeordraw says:

    Before 9/11, Canada spent nearly a decade putting its financial house in order by considerable belt tightening; and for many it was tough times. But it worked. I was then amazed see all those saving, huge amounts, go into border and airport security and surveillance, etc., as well as curtailments of citizenship freedoms. When I questioned a senior official on this, her respond was that we had no choice. I was almost amazed, of course, by the US response, the quick invasion of Afghanistan, Guantanamo, serious curtailment of civil liberties, subsequent Iraq, etc, and the answer to my questioning was that the US had to respond big, irrespective of what that response was or the not thought through consequences. Indeed, there are theories that the whole mess in the Middle East today, IS, Syria, etc., all stems from the response to 9/11.

    Though our hearts break for family members and friends killed or injured in bombings, and we perforce imagine our own family members and friends involved, the facts are risks are excruciatingly higher driving cars, from known diseases, from guns in the US, etc., for all of which comparatively less public resources are devoted. It would appear that these fanatics, who above all have a disregard for life on the planet, their own and all others, are winning again and again with our constant, over the top, responses to their dastardly deeds.

    Maybe this is all a consequence of media in our global village and, indeed, the inherent demand for a demonstrated response. Maybe it’s the economic advantages taken under a political climate of fear. Mr. Jenkins has a point with the approach taken with the IRA – not sure if that’s an option anymore.

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