I was as angry and upset as anyone about the Brussels terror attacks, and it has got me thinking about the true nature of the conflict which has become known as the 'global war on terror'. In my estimation, the real struggle is the conflict between those who value pluralism and societies which value a monolithic approach to life. Tragically, even the most open, pluralistic societies harbor individuals who seek to bring about a monolithic society which conforms to their own narrow religious, racial, or ideological 'correctness'.
The Brussels attacks have been attributed to the Islamic State, a right-wing fundamentalist group which seeks to impose its Wahabist brand of Sunni Islam on the Fertile Crescent and the Levant. The refugee crisis which ISIS has created in Iraq and Syria has fueled the rise of right-wing movements in Europe. Here in the 'States, we have the ascendancy of right-wing politicians who fan the flames of religious conflict.
The real horror of terrorism is its targeting of random civilians- the idea that some poor schmo commuting to work or having a beer in a sidewalk cafe can be blown to smithereens by a fanatic is abhorrent. The world is dangerous enough without the added worry of violent death at the hands of an ideologue. Sadly, I don't know what the answer is... it's extremely difficult to neutralize the inflammable material that's been planted in the heads of the world's fundamentalists, racists, and misogynists. I've long been a proponent of soft power, but it seems as if a half-century of bad policies rooted in violent repression and benefiting a tiny elite have led to an intractable situation. The hunt for individual terrorists goes on, but the root causes of terrorism remain... reaction rather than prevention.
This morning, the Brian Lehrer Show featured two sobering segments, one on Belgian counterterrorism efforts and another on ordinary Russians' experiences after the fall of the Soviet Union. In both cases, I couldn't help but rue the United States' failure to engage in aid and development efforts in the past four decades, specifically the failure to rebuild Afghan society after the repulsion of the Soviet invasion, and the failure to aid the Russians after the fall of the Soviet Union. Add to that our proxy wars in the Middle East and the horn of Africa, and it's impossible not to conclude that our current geopolitical problems are the result of mistakes made and, worse, crimes committed.
I don't know how to promote pluralistic societies rooted in social justice, especially in the light of the 'West's' slide into intolerance, fear, and belligerence. I still believe that the majority of people just want to live their lives peacefully and without fear, but peace and fearlessness aren't profitable, and a lot of resources are expended on keeping people agitated and afraid. I guess I can do my part by not buying in to the fearmongering, and by trying to mollify others' fears, but there are times when that seems like a Sisyphean task.