The symbolism of the horrible violent act in Brussels – attacking transportation hubs in a safe, cosmopolitan city – increases a global sense of vulnerability. And we must condemn this.
But it is not enough to condemn violent acts. This is the latest in a stream of violent attacks around the world – carried out by both state and non-state actors, like Isis, in recent years. At least 34 souls added to the long list of those killed and wounded in Beirut, Baghdad, Egypt, Turkey, and Paris. Added to the millions of people who have suffered over the last decade as a result of wars and violence in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, Libya, Kenya, and elsewhere.
Politicians will (and some already have) call for borders to be closed and for airstrikes on Isis-controlled lands where real people live and where civilians will continue to suffer. This is our historic pattern, and yet the horror of the attack on Brussels still happened. Do we have any evidence that a decade of militarised and increasingly xenophobic responses has been effective? The cycle of violence continues unabated and has grown more troubling.
Since 2001, the US and our allies’ first response to violent attacks has been to double down on attacks, close borders, and declare war in the name of security. Wars have been fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Drones have bombed targets and many civilians throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. Hundreds of thousands have died, millions have been injured and displaced from their homes. Today, war, despair, and economic hopelessness contribute to a migration crisis that is the largest since World War II.
So many people have suffered as a result of such militarized responses. And are we more secure? Violence continues to foment extremism globally and in our own country. As some leaders call for borders to be closed, we must remember that violent acts are not something that is committed only by ‘others’ outside of the US. In our country, we must remember and mourn the victims of Newtown, Kalamazoo, Charleston, Kansas, and the countless other mass shootings when we think about violence and terrorism. We must ask ourselves: When will our outrage at violent acts lead to mass mobilisation? When will this collective outrage lead to a serious investment in a vision of a global shared security?
We must push our leaders to invest in global shared security that rejects policies based on narratives of fear and military domination. We need to seek solutions that recognize that in our interconnected world, security depends on ensuring that all of us are safe, not just a privileged few who live in cosmopolitan cities.
It is time for us to invest seriously in peace building instead of war building in the name of the security. Imagine a world where leaders mobilised not to shut borders and bomb targets but where they worked together to prioritize peace building, investing in early interventions and development that address root causes of conflict long before violent extremism festers and conflict erupts.
People want peace. It is time to seek alternatives to the decades of costly, ineffective militarized actions and interventions. International communities are increasingly seeking peaceful solutions to conflict and to cooperative approaches to solving our world problems, including the problem of violence committed by non-state actors like Isis.
A successful strategy will amplify the voice of courageous peace builders: religious and community leaders working every day in communities around the world, often risking their lives to bravely promote nonviolence and mediating with those committing violence. To reduce future violent acts, we need engagement with disaffected communities, groups committing violence, and a serious global commitment to diplomatic and political solutions.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Brussels attacks: when will our outrage lead to a radical change in our policy response?’