Where do we go from here?

Another day, another loss. As commemorations and mourning begins for the victims in Belgium, a numbness has settled across Europe. Things weren’t supposed to be like this anymore. The world was supposed to be different. Europe was supposed to be different.

Like many of my friends I found the latest attacks upsetting, but no longer shocking. We have seen the images before and seen the same motions performed by our leaders, individuals in our social media circle and figures in our respective communities. As sad as it may be, it seems that a dawning realisation has settled across Europe that these attacks are no longer “abnormal”, but rather a new normal.

Terrorism is powerful because it taps into our most primal of instincts. It removes certainty in our lifestyles and it corrodes personal confidence in our broader society to protect us from threats. In an atmosphere of fear, we retreat into our personal networks and further isolate communities from each other. If one ever needed an example of this, then the public attitude towards 1,000’s of migrants seeking a new life in Europe, seen in the corresponding growth of far right political movements, provides clear evidence.

But while we don’t know the specifics of the latest attacks, what we do know is that the largest source of threats to European nationals thus far has come not from migrants or refugees, but from our own citizens. These individuals are not all poor, nor lacking in education or somehow psychologically “unhinged”. They are, in a sense, normal Europeans and they often come from good families. Most (or certainly many) were educated within largely secular systems and they have (and perhaps continue to) enjoy the benefits of western lifestyles[1]. In short they are very much our own problem, and one which we must accept we have helped (to varying degrees) to create.

The fact is that certain people in our communities feel so disconnected and lost in our society that they are prepared to commit unspeakable horrors to join the death cult that is ISIS today. This is not a religious motivation. ISIS are not endorsed by Muslim scholars, nor do they follow Islamic principles. Rather, these people have lost hope in the ability of democracies to make life better for themselves, their community and other communities overseas, with whom they feel an affiliation.

It is perhaps the most human of all things to simply throw in the towel and say “enough!”. Don’t let anyone else in. Build high walls and borders. Increase surveillance of our Muslim communities and restrict our human rights more if necessary. Ignore arbitrary detention laws and pursue extrajudicial killing. In short, anything that will make us believe we will be more safe (even if they wont or don’t work in reality). Certainly a few politicians and voters hold these views. Suffice to say they don’t require naming.

But sitting around and feeling helpless is not a solution and neither is extreme, knee jerk policy making. While Europe has been poor at showing solidarity for acts of terror in other parts of the world, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Nigeria and Indonesia (to name a few), everyone could learn a lot by studying how the ordinary people in these communities have responded to acts of terror in their day-to-day lives. In short, the people moved on, just as life moves on. As the Brits used to say during the Blitz “Keep calm and carry on”.

So if we are going to look at how to make our societies stronger, our people safer and ISIS unappealing to our citizens, then we have to look hard at ourselves. Do we really allow people the chance to create a better life for themselves, do we honestly believe what we say on Human Rights and universal values and perhaps most importantly, do we honestly consider the views of all our citizens as equivalent?

I am not saying that any system or any society is perfect, nor that such a goal is realistic. But as any politician knows only too well, the signalling can matter as much as the substance. It is a duty upon all of us to campaign and push for society to reconnect with politics and our governments. To fight against simplistic arguments which propagate ignorance and division. To resist the temptation to fall into despair. And, to make the most of every day and opportunity that this world gives us.

This piece was titled “Where do we go from here” in adapting to acts of terrorism at home, and humbly I submit my answer: we make the most of every opportunity that the world has to offer and we strive to improve understanding and engagement between individuals and our communities. We go for our passions and we fight for our values. Above all we never forget that this world is our home and it is only going to get better when the silent majority of our citizens fight to protect it when it’s threatened and to change it when its broken.

That is our challenge for this time and that’s how we must face this new normal.

[1] (as an aside here: Planet Money’s podcast on ISIS fighter expenditures is excellent, including $90 chocolate bars and french aftershave). http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2015/12/04/458524627/episode-667-auditing-isis