Suicide Bombers Know Where They Are Going. We Do Not

In his last film, Where to Invade Next, American filmmaker Michael Moore painted Europe as Utopia. Europeans do not see it that way at all. We moan from dawn till dusk about the government, the elite, TTIP, and the monster in Brussels. We don’t want any more migrants, but now that we’ve finally managed to send them back to Turkey that is wrong as well. This week we are serving up our own security forces, true to form. And Belgium? Oh, Belgium is a failed state. Unfortunately, it looks like it was a walk-over for the El-Bakraoui brothers.

Self-assured, totally dedicated to their mission – the destruction of the West, and the construction of a caliphate on its ruins – they blew themselves up in Brussels. It must have taken recruiters of Islamic State (IS) many months to bring these men into their sphere of influence. That takes much time, care and persuasive power. But at least that gets you something: people who want to die for their ideals.

In 2015, polling organisation Gallup asked if Europeans wanted to die for their country. The score: 18 percent of Germans, 27 percent of Brits, and 15
percent of the Dutch said yes. Only the Finns achieved 74 percent. We Europeans become paralysed when confronted with violence. Life in Brussels has stopped. Days after the attacks you still get e-mails like „Despite ‘Brussels’, we have decided to let the concert go ahead”. This is exactly what IS wants.

After the Paris attacks Scott Atran, an anthropologist working for the CNRS, the Paris Centre for fundamental scientific research, wrote that we are suspended in our own ignorance of what motivates suicide bombers. We have to gain insight into what moves them, if not it will be difficult to fight them.

After the attacks in Paris, Brussels also came to a standstill, as did Boston in 2013. This makes citizens unsure about society’s resilience. Even during the Blitz (1940-41), Atran wrote, „not even the full might of the German Luftwaffe at the height of the Blitz could compel the UK government and the people of London to cower so. Today, mere mention of an attack on New York in an ISIS video has US officials scurrying to calm the public. Media exposure, which is the oxygen of terror in our age, not only amplifies the perception of danger but, in generating such hysteria, makes the bloated threat to society real.”

The suicide bombers know where they are going. We do not. For decades, our governments beavered away at the European Union, arguing that it was a technical operation: a ‘market’, nothing more, nothing less. The nation state, they insisted, would persist as the main political unit. However, nation states are becoming more permeable.

Decision that were once taken in national parliaments are now taken on higher levels – on Wall Street, in Brussels, at the G20. This makes citizens nervous: the line that the EU is ‘purely economic’, isn’t true anymore. Why are governments keeping up appearances? Fierce discussions are raging in many EU countries about what globalisation is doing to national identity. The Dutch Ukraine referendum also relates to that. But our leaders, who are supposed to steer these debates and have to propose better European structures, are ducking the question and looking the other way. This lack of political perspective is eating away at our social cohesion and confidence.

Society gets fragmented: „Just let them do what they want”. But how are cynical citizens, who are checking out, going to find solutions for dealing with second- and third-generation migrants? With those who feel marginalised and gradually mature through petty crime only to be patiently converted in European prisons? How many people actually know that Europe, without even the slightest political debate, are already waging a hard war against IS in Libya? Is it possible that the attacks in Brussels have something to do with that, too? And with the Western invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan? Europeans should, besides lighting some candles, find a new common political destination again. Otherwise they will never be able to answer these crucial questions.