The images of the Brussels attacks are familiar by now: the bloody, lifeless forms on the floor; police swarming the crime scene; First Responders loading gurneys into ambulances; traumatized companions shrieking into the darkness. It’s almost cliché – interchangeable with photos of the Paris and Madrid and London attacks. Sweetly sentimental mourners trooped to yet another makeshift memorial, sang peace songs and snapped selfies of them wiping away tears, according to the Hindustan Times. Sober public officials, jaws jutting, mounted podiums, surrounded by patriotic symbols, to denounce the murders as an attack on freedom, on our way of life.
The West’s response to radical Islamic terrorist attack is, by now, stylized. It’s so conventional that you could plug almost anybody into any of the various roles, and they would know what speech is expected of them. OK, time for the speech about how “we will not let them divide us.” Now, time to say that the Western democracies will always be vulnerable to attacks like this, and that “you can never eliminate all risks.” It’s the same speech, different slaughter. We’ve become comfortable with the civic ritual. The on-scene journalism seems almost rehearsed.
Oh, and one other thing never changes: public officials and corporate executives are never held to account for reckless indifference to the prospect of murderous attacks. The Belgian Prime Minister refused to accept the resignations of his Justice Minister and Interior (intelligence) Minister after the attacks, although it’s clear that they didn’t take the threat seriously enough.
Belgian anti-terrorist operations are also hindered by a robust presumption of criminal innocence. One of the March 22 suicide bombers was arrested in Turkey under very suspicious circumstances, identified as a likely terrorist and deported home to Belgium. There, he had no criminal record and no accuser, so officials released him, thus dooming several Belgians to obliteration or maiming at the airport and train station.
This elaborate Kabuki drama, in which the government officials and corporate executives howl with grief after the attack, but slip back into half-hearted security shortly after the cameras go away, is not lost on aspiring terrorists. They see the officials’ and executives’ venality and reluctance to fund credible, effective anti-terrorist measures.
Even within Belgium’s nuclear power industry, security background checks failed to identify two employees who later quit the nuclear power plant and enlisted in ISIL. Recently a Belgian nuclear guard was shot dead, and his security pass was stolen. The trajectory of these attacks is not good. It appears that the terrorists are emboldened by Belgians’ passiveness. However, the Europeans have no monopoly on theatrics and phony security.
Picture credit New York Times