Horrifying reports and photos from the terrorist bombings in Brussels continue to roll in. President Obama and European leaders are issuing the all-too-familiar denunciations and expressing solidarity with the Belgians, such as French President Francois Hollande’s statement that, “Through the attacks in Brussels, the whole of Europe has been hit.”
Perhaps there is nothing better for officials to say in the immediate wake of such an event, before the facts are known, yet it’s hard not to feel as though they’re simply going through the motions. But there are some clear-eyed exceptions. The AP reports, for example, that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls emphatically stated that: “We are at war. Over the past few months in Europe, we have endured several acts of war.”
Valls certainly has a point – one hopefully other politicians will soon be making. While one attack does not a war make, on the heels of the November 13 slaughter in Paris, the Charlie Hebdo attacks before that, a recent thwarted attack in Berlin, and a string of Muslim-linked sexual assaults in cities around the EU (possibly planned in advance), Europe is feeling more and more like a battlefield.
Yet living in Europe, it seems to me most political leaders are continuing with a strategy of firm denial. In Germany, Angela Merkel continues to defend having practically single-handedly invited well over a million Muslims to migrate en mass, with similar numbers expected this year. European elites feel compelled to preface every statement with a recognition that “most” of these refugees are not violent, and this is true. But at the same time, most hail from societies that see themselves as at war with the West, and the huge population flows and growing sympathetic communities makes it easy for the true extremists to hide and operate. Belgium is now finding this out, much to its horror.
Inevitably, the Brussels attacks already are being used to score points in the U.S. presidential contest. But what real political lessons are there in all this? Surely there are policy steps we can take to avoid following in Europe’s footsteps. Indeed, action may be imperative. There has been much recent discussion of the deep disconnect between the general American population and many in the ruling class – sentiments linked most obviously to supporters of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. The atmosphere increasingly is similar in Europe. Governments here continue to dismiss anxious citizens as backwards bigots for expressing concern about the inability or unwillingness of many Muslims to assimilate and accept the core values of Western society. On days like today, there will be strong words about rejecting violence and standing against terrorism – but how much longer will the citizens see this as a sufficient response? And how long before people who feel disenfranchised and sneered at turn to the few politicians not afraid to address their concerns head on, regardless of that person’s faults? Unless the “mainstream” politicians offer more than platitudes, stridency in politics will only become more intense.