Yesterday, once I heard about the terror attacks in Brussels, the first thing I did was to call a couple of very close friends to make sure that they were all right. In Europe, even someone who is not familiar with that city must know someone else there. One of my friends, passed by Maalbeek Metro Station 5 minutes before the deflagration took place… Sadness, a lot of sadness I had and still have with me.

Today, I have decided not to buy any newspapers. I feel uneasy with this second wave of bombings which has started with the obsessive media coverage of the attacks, continued with the pornography of pain, and ended in disturbing political declarations. «Europe is under attack. We are at war. It is a Muslim aggression. We have to counterattack against the Islamic threat». Deep throats are uttering messages of hate: fuck Islam, they must be expelled, and so on. Chaimaa Fatihi, one of my Muslim friends holding Italian citizenship, a prominent character in the Italian association of young Muslims, wrote yesterday on facebook:  «The media pillory has begun again. TV chains and newspapers begin to call us again, as if the terrorist act had already been claimed, but even if it were, why doing it now and not before? A few days ago there were attacks in Istanbul, Ankara and Bamako: why no one has he asked us about it? Why no television station wanted to know our opinion? And why talk shows have not been held on these as well dramatic and painful events?»

I hope Europe will react with wisdom and intelligence. Many thoughts cross my mind right now. I have the feeling that things are simpler than the way they are fabricated or narrated, if you go beyond the mechanics of terror attacks. The following ones come to my mind:

1) Intelligence at European level does not work, coordination does not work, it seems that national intelligence services are too jealous of their own information; we therefore need a European coordination strengthening the cooperation and inter-operability of national intelligence services. Belgium in particular needs it, being inexperienced in anti-terrorism and having a fragmented geography of police forces corresponding to the number of governments the country has due to its federal system. It won’t be easy to build up such a European cooperation framework, if we look at the way many countries are trying to remove the global refugees challenge by simply raising new physical and impassable barriers at their borders.

2) To those who claim that we are now at war, I would like to remind them that European countries have been at war for years, just think of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya: indeed, right now we need instead a serious reflection on these conflicts, and wonder if the famous «war on terror» launched by the Americans after the Al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, has not made us more fragile and less safe. «War on terror» has been a remake of those colonial wars fought last century on Muslim soil, where people’s aspirations to self-determination have been squeezed by the intention of preserving Western economic interests.

3) The mother of contemporary Islamic terror, Al Qaeda, has largely made use of the Arab sentiment of frustration and resentment for the unsolved Palestinian cause. This serious wound will always fuel the feeling of revenge against the West for having bowed its head before the occupying Israeli powers.  Without change of European attitude against Israeli colonialism, Jihadism will benefit of moral legitimacy in many Arab eyes.

4) European friendship with counter-revolutionary regimes emerged in post – Arab Spring countries is indirectly facilitating the work of terror recruitment networks. If it has proved to be profitable for trade development and energy exploitation interests, European proximity to those regimes shows to be catastrophic for other purposes. Repression and illegalization of political Islam in those countries have exacerbated the readiness of many young people to go along a violent path of resistance. Only in Egypt, there are more than 40,000 political prisoners, the State has banned many Islamic movements, and it is using terror practices to eliminate dissent and opposition, while Europe closes its eyes in front of it.

5) The largest majority of Muslims are against violence and reject militant armed Jihadism in the name of Allah, but there is a social layer offering silence and connivance to terror networks in Europe. Muslim communities must share responsibility in exposing those networks, and non-violent resistance against radicalization in these communities must be supported, in order to isolate those who join terror organizations, and make them losing the respect of their own social environment. Moreover, such a development must go hand in hand with a consistent reversal of ghettoization, which has affected the districts of many Northern European cities: integration means offering the same services and opportunities to poor and rich neighbourhoods, if we do not want to have dozens of Molenbeek[1]-like districts, where Jihadist proselytism takes roots side-by-side with economic precariousness and social marginalization.

6) Returning foreign fighters are certainly a clear and material danger because they embody the paper of Islamic heroes and can connect the frustration of European Muslim youth with the weapons supply networks. They are thousands having combated in the field. Only from Belgium, more than 500 left to fight in Syria or Irak[2]. The response should be to set up programmes of reinsertion of those former fighters in society, not putting all of them in jail (should you catch them). You have to give them an opportunity to escape hell. After the 2011 Libyan revolution, a full programme of reinsertion with economic, social and psychological support measures was developed to absorb the militants who had taken up arms; its only partial application is one of the factors – by the way – behind the current instability affecting that country.

7) We have to practice the principles of French republicanism: « Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité». Not isolating and condemning all Muslims, not undermining our civil freedoms and our freedom of mobility, but practicing empathy so that our Muslim compatriots do not become the scapegoat of a new wave of hate, nor that a repressive distortment of our democratic societies takes place in the name of security. I am sure that the Belgian society, as open and plural and multicultural and dynamic it is, will find new reasons for rediscovering solidarity among its own citizens, mutual understanding and a sense of belonging to a common destiny.

8) And last but not least, we need a political solution to the Syrian civil war, but not at any price. Syria has so far paid the tribute of more than 400,000 casualties[3], and regime’s barrel-bombs still fall on Syrian cities, with or without Russian backup. The largest majority of those who lost their life have been killed because of the al-Assad regime’s policy of scorched earth[4]. The regime militarized on purpose the pacific uprising of 2011, the regime made what was in its hands to «islamize» the revolution in order to regain international legitimacy. An imposed peace with such a brutal and authoritarian government will never last. Refugees and Islamic terrorism have represented the two best secret weapons to sabotage the call of Syrian people for democracy and freedom. Nedal al-Najjar, a Syrian militant for human rights who escaped to Canada, says: «The West has turned the back to our call for dignity, and left us in the hands of our repressive dictatorship. Then the Islamists came and filled the vacuum»[5].  «Today we have to defend the human rights of all, tourists and innocent citizens as the populations that suffer indiscriminate bombing» declared the Italian Non-Violent Movement in a statement yesterday. I agree.

If Europe wants to go on war, it should start from within its borders, without giving up with its principles of pluralism, understanding and solidarity. The same principles that inspired the European integration process. And the war Europe must conduct outside its borders is to serve the right to self-determination of Arab and Muslim people, who are inspired by the same principles they believe Europe is built upon.


[1]  The Brussels’ neighbourhood where the organizers of the last French attack were hiding.

[2] N. Robins-Early, «Brussels Attacks Underscore Belgium’s Foreign Fighter Problem», The Huffington Post, 23 March 2016.

[3] Source: Syrian Centre for Policy Research, February 2016.

[4] The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has been responsible for 75 percent of the casualties in 2015, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

[5] See the documentary movie Une histoire syrienne, by Samer Beyhum, 2014.


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