The tragic terror attacks at Brussels Zaventem Airport and Maelbeek metro Station come at the heels of the refugee crisis currently underway in mainland Europe. As passengers clambered out of a smoke-filled underground tunnel at Maelbeek metro station and ambulances rushed the casualties, one could recall the scenes in Manhattan on 9/11.
Reports suggest that the Maelbeek explosion happened shortly after the two explosions at the Brussels airport. Despite earlier reports that Brussels could be the next big target, the authorities in Belgium were taken aback by the string of suicide attacks, which caused huge losses of life and property. Brussels is not only the political headquarters of the European Union but also the military headquarters of Nato; so, the symbolic and psychological strategic impact of these attacks is like that of 9/11 for the US.
The Libya, Iraq and Syria refugee crises, which have formed a tsunami of people swarming across the Mediterranean Sea, have already saturated Europe. The European Union has been negotiating a deal to manage the refugee crisis, with added responsibility assigned to Turkey to check the additional influx of dislocated migrants from the arch of instability created by the western powers since the start of 21st century.
Russia’s reaction to these terror attacks was more measured and, to some extent, realistic. The chairman of the Russian Federation State Duma’s international affairs committee, Alexey Pushkov, linked the Brussels attacks to Nato policies. However, he offered full support for a joint fight against the scourge of terrorism. As Isis and other terrorist organisations operating in the greater Levant are squeezed by the onslaught of military operations conducted by regional and extra-regional powers, like the Russian federation and the West, they have tried to develop a response within mainland Europe, striking at the very heart of it.
Earlier, in Jan 2016, the far right bandwagon was already ripe with anti-Muslim rhetoric. Donald Trump’s regular ridicule of Angela Merkel’s open-door migrant policy was echoed by the head honchos of the far right, like anti-immigration Dutch politician Geert Wilders and France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen. The Brussels attacks have given a new impetus to nti-Muslim propulsion on both sides of the Atlantic and we have witnessed a hardened stance and reaction.
The attacks are likely to have far-reaching consequences for mainland Europe and North America. They could become a catalyst for the ‘Brexit’ movement and badly affect David Cameron’s latest bid to keep the British Islands within the European Union. Just after the Brussels attacks, the UKIP leadership rallied around Nigel Farage and lambasted David Cameron’s policy of keeping Britain under the umbrella of the. European Union. The UK and Europe social media is also heavily tilted in favour of Brexit. The UK is already under threat of Isis-sponsored terror attacks, and any such incident in the British Islands could decisively tilt the balance in favour of UKIP’s Brexit campaign.
With every passing day since 2010, the Schengen system of free movement is being blamed for the free flow of refugees into Europe. Some of the Schengen members have already constructed fences and walls, and there seems to be a general mood to scrap the system. Terrorist attacks like those in Paris and Brussels have greatly helped Eurosceptic campaigners to call for dismantling the Schengen system and even the European Union.
The rise of the far right could gain further ingress, as the disenchanted white youth take things into their own hands, handing a political victory to Eurosceptic and anti-immigration stalwarts, like Heinz-Christian Strache of Austria, Marine Le Pen of France and Matteo Salvini of the Italian Lega Nord. If Donald Trump wins the presidential race in the US, the next decade could witness a very different alliance of the west on both sides of the Atlantic.
McCarthyism against Muslims could become the new normal in the West, leading to the ostracism and strategic suffocation of the Muslim diaspora. This could have devastating consequences for the economic health of the Western world, as the Muslim diaspora forms the bulk of the youth work-force of the stagnant markets.
A new Auschwitz for Muslims could be the long-term effect of the current environment and perception building in Europe and North America, as the words Islam and Muslim become the new hate-slogans in the entire West. If the far right gains strength on both sides of the Atlantic, the Muslim diaspora could find itself trapped in a modern day Auschwitz, like the Palestinians confined in the West Bank and Gaza.
Unfortunately, the world at large and the Western countries in particular remain highly divided on the issue of immigrants and refugees, and there is not a single leader on either side of the Atlantic who can mould public opinion in a rational manner. The powder keg lit by the Western powers in the Middle East and North Africa is finally exploding with full force, and its flames seem to be leaping across the Mediterranean into mainland Europe.
The writer is a Lahore-based defence analyst.