From Brussels, I reject Israel’s solidarity

A tribute to the people killed in Brussels this week. (Miguel Discart/Flickr)

I have lived in Brussels for 21 years but never considered this city as my home — until Donald Trump insulted it.

By describing Brussels as a “hellhole” because of its sizeable Muslim population, Trump was attacking my friends and neighbors. Trump was attacking people like the cheerful Syrian I see almost every day; his daughter is in the same class as mine.

As it happens, my Syrian acquaintance was the last person I saw as I left the school on Tuesday morning. A short while later, I received a text message from my wife, telling me about the explosions. She had made it safely to work, thank God. On the way, she had traveled through Maalbeek metro station, just minutes before a bomb went off there.

We don’t yet know the identities of all the people killed. We do know, however, that they belonged to a mixture of ethnicities and nationalities. They spoke different languages. Some were probably religious, others not.

In short, they represented the thing that I like most about my adopted home: its multiculturalism.

Donald Trump’s first reaction to the attacks was to claim vindication for his “hellhole” comments. Once again, he was displaying his bigotry. The wannabe president will use any opportunity to whip up fear.

Hellhole?

It shouldn’t be necessary to spell this out but I will. Muslims in Brussels contribute massively to the city’s multicultural spirit. They help to make Brussels vibrant and convivial, the very antithesis of a hellhole. The men who carried out this week’s attacks did not enjoy any mandate from their community. Insisting, as bigots do, that Muslims prove their abhorrence for these crimes is profoundly ignorant.

Unfortunately, the Muslim community is suffering because of that ignorance. When it emerged that the Paris attacks last November had been planned in Brussels, large numbers of police and soldiers were deployed on the streets of this city. I have witnessed incidents where young men have been harassed by the police in recent months. There was no indication that the young men were doing anything illegal. As far as I could see, they were hassled solely for being Muslim.

The usual response to these kinds of atrocities is that think tanks publish pamphlets about how to deal with “radicalization.” The think tank analysts rarely grapple with the causes of terror or seek to understand it (and, as Frank Barat wrote in a new essay, understanding is never the same as condoning). Accepting that imperialism might be at fault is something of a taboo for such analysts, many of whom have their “research” funded by corporations and Western governments.

Right to anger

The residents of Brussels have every right to be angry about what has happened this week. We should certainly demand that the authorities do everything they can to apprehend the suspects. But we should not accept that Muslims may be bullied and stigmatized.

Let’s direct our anger at the small number of people who have set the Middle East ablaze. The terror of Islamic State is a direct consequence of war declared against Iraq in 2003. If it wasn’t for that illegal invasion, there would not have been an attack on Brussels on Tuesday, or Istanbul on Saturday or Baghdad last month.

Two men were ultimately responsible for the invasion and destruction of Iraq: George W. Bush, then the US president, and Tony Blair, then the British prime minister. Why are they still at large?

Most of the messages sent to the people of Brussels this week were heartfelt and appreciated. A few, however, were cynical. One was contemptible; it came from Israel.

The Israeli government as a whole claimed it “stands with Brussels.” As a resident of Brussels, I refuse that solidarity.

Ofir Akunis, the Israeli science minister, tried to play politics. He suggested the attacks occurred because, rather than fighting terrorism, Europe was too busy placing labels on goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

His comments are too inane to merit a detailed rebuttal. And besides, the labeling to which he referred is an initiative taken by the political elite. Many ordinary Europeans have gone beyond demanding labels: they are too busy boycotting all Israeli goods and campaigning against companies who seek to profit from the occupation.

We shall remain busy. The most fitting tribute to victims of violence is to tackle its root causes. That means fighting imperialism, bigotry and inequality. It means defending multiculturalism, a beautiful idea that Israel has rejected.

Tags

Comments

picture

This is the price we pay for the illegal war against Iraq. This cannot be mentioned often enough in a context in which Trump promises to undo the agreement with Iran (and then, what?)

picture

I apologize to ALL these people of Brussels for the hate and stupidity that the USA puts on you. I do NOT CONDONE murder, be it out of idiot terrorism, or out of the terrorism that the USA and ISRAEL INFLICT upon the world. I for one would love to see Israel given back to the Palestinians. The USA should be held on their own TERRORIST charges for SELLING WEAPONS to ISRAEL which is a TERRORIST NATION, just like the USA. I am also VERY ashamed to be an American and always having to apologize for the CORRUPTION of my IDIOT AMERICANS! STOP USING MY TAX DOLLARS FOR KILLING AND PROPPING UP DICTATORS!

picture

Well said, well said. Witnessing the GOP call Israel "America's greatest ally" is what really pains me; they might as well let it all out: "America's greatest ally in racist politically-fueled genocide".

picture

I'm happy to see more and more people saying the truth

picture

The main reason for the labelling requirement is that the supposedly "anti-Israel" EU actually grants Israel reduced import tariffs. For many years now, Israeli companies (with the complicity of their government in many cases) have been defrauding the EU of tax by claiming that goods produced in the illegal settlements are "Israeli" in order to benefit from the EU handout. Far from being "anti-Semitic", the move is intended to prevent fraud so that legitimate Israeli companies can continue to benefit from the EU's preferential treatment.

picture

So many non-Europeans have lived in Brussels it could be called that it's the "Hotel California" of Western Europe. I too love the multi-ethnic culture of the city, but I know that-as in any city-there are strong currents of racism fomented by Belgians. Our media intensifies this by talking about the Flemish and French communities. In a sense, I have always believed that the presence of two European cultures contributes as much to a flexibility of Brussels residents as to their rigidity. I despise generalizing the good, the unifying, the peaceful out of the reality that is everywhere; and distilling the hate that the Trumps of the world are so obsessed with serving up each day. Obviously, Schaerbeek and Mollenbeek are isolated communities that suffer and that do not feel a part of this multi-ethnic culture. This is not by choice. Like any mono-ethnic minority community, for some there is a feeling of safety for being away from the critical eyes, and nasty comments of the majority, but also the rejection by that majority. There is a tension between assimilation and ethnic identity in every multi-ethnic community and it can be a welcomed opportunity to grow in understanding, love and respect or to devolve into ignorance, racism and hatred.

David Cronin

David Cronin's picture

David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His new book is Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel (Pluto, 2017).