So are we now to believe that Belgium’s Muslims have become so radicalised by this country that they have joined ISIS and are blowing people up? But let’ first take a look back in the 1970s, when terrorist bombs were going off daily in Northern Ireland. There was a pop group fronted by a Sikh which played in Belfast night clubs. One of their songs began “Belfast, Belfast, a wonderful town, it doesn’t matter if your skin is brown.”
This was meant as a joke, but a serious one. Unlike in the rest of the UK, the two main communities in Northern Ireland were too busy fighting each other to subject Asians to racial abuse. Belfast’s Asians were affected by terrorism the same way as everyone else, but weren’t actually direct targets of it. They had a relatively better life in the place that no one else wanted to live in.
Now take Belgium; it has had tensions between its two linguistic and cultural communities for over fifty years. When the country declared its independence from The Netherlands in 1830 one of the reasons was the imposition of the Dutch language on areas controlled by a French-speaking aristocracy.
Consequently independence saw the southern, French-speaking part of Belgium develop at the expense of the Flemish Dutch speaking north. But from the 1960s onwards several governments were brought down by language riots and its political parties split into separate Francophone and Flemish organisations, often opposing their former colleagues on key questions to support their language community. Eventually the country became a federal state divided on linguistic lines, and even today, if you speak a word of French in a Flemish region public office, or vice versa, you can lose your job, such are the sensitivities involved.
So are we now to believe that Belgium’s Muslims have become so radicalised by this country that they have joined ISIS and are blowing people up? Pull the other one. Whoever was behind the atrocities in Brussels, it is unlikely to be Muslims, immigrants or even terrorists. It is people who want us to believe this for their own purposes, and even this close to the event; the signs are that they are achieving their unpleasant goal—and we know only too well all the false flags in history, and some of those connected with the so called war on terrorism.
Flashes of genius
The Brussels bombings do bear the Modus Operandi of other atrocities blamed on ISIS, and the timing and location is perfect, the heart of Europe. It is not by coincidence, the choice of venue.
They took place near EU institutions, and this is being interpreted as a protest against the EU and NATO’s actions in Syria and UN 1973 in Libya. One wonders, however, why is it only terrorists who can get bombs through airport and metro station security. However, why can’t they get them into EU buildings themselves, claim just as many lives and present a greater threat to those who run the system than innocent bystanders.
The explosions were also highly co-ordinated, with several bombs going off at different sites in a timed sequence. The two incidents, which took place within about an hour of each other, prompted a massive security shut-down in the city. We have been told again and again how fearsome and sophisticated these Islamic militants are, as if you can gain greater military expertise from a madrassa than the received wisdom of the world’s armies and police forces. So on this basis too ISIS would be the obvious culprit.
The trouble with this argument is that there are several countries which have experienced years of ongoing terrorism which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. The aforementioned Northern Ireland conflict lasted over twenty-five years, and the historic campaigns of the Red Brigades in Italy, ETA in Spain and irregular forces in many parts of South America and South East Asia have made terrorism a daily reality for many people since long before ISIS was invented.
You would therefore think that the terrorists involved in these conflicts, with all their experience and tacit support from many members of the communities, would be able to do exactly what ISIS is doing but on a larger scale. Anything ISIS knows, militant groups which have stood the test of time must know too.
But none of these groups have ever conducted co-ordinated attacks on such a scale. There have been instances of two or three bombs going off in different places as part of the same action, but the Brussels explosions take bombing to a new logistical level.
So if ISIS did this it must have had outside help. But there would be nothing unusual about this. We have seen the videos of the illegal arms deals, seen the US planes shadowing the ISIS trucks, and even how ISIS oil being sold on the US market by NATO member countries. We have seen the fake passports of the Chechens imported to Pankisi Gorge who are conveniently moved around to each theatre of operation as the US sees fit, and soon they will be in Europe too.
We have also seen limited Russian airstrikes doing more damage to ISIS forces than the prolonged US ones, without being given an adequate explanation as to how this could be the case. We have also seen Western leaders lining up to condemn Russia for wanting to attack ISIS, and offering no congratulation for its successes against this allegedly common enemy.
Reading the wrong book
So what purpose do these bombings serve? Military analysts suggest that they are part of a campaign of “fourth generation” warfare. This focuses not on physically destroying an enemy but engaging in moral, cultural and psychological conflict designed to grind it down politically.
However the reaction to the bombings indicates what is wrong with such a claim. There has been a justifiable howl of outrage, followed by an equally justifiable desire to do something about it. But what can be done? Restrict immigration? Bomb ISIS into submission, which the US has allegedly been doing for years, albeit to little avail? Stop getting involved in countries which produce terrorists?
No one has any idea. All anyone can offer is words, which suits the clueless politicians, who can make empty gestures to pretend they are doing something. They are in fact thrilled to find something as a distraction to real problems facing Europe. But there is no obvious course of action the public can unite around to give itself hope.
When the Lusitania was sunk by Germany during the First World War this too was considered an act of war committed by one particular country, to which an appropriate military response could be made.
One understandable target, one understandable weapon … but what do you do about ISIS? And most importantly, how long can you keep asking that same question?
Even those directly affected by the bombing, those who have been injured or lost loved ones, are not going to spend every minute of every day worrying about ISIS terrorism and going through a wish-list of possible solutions to it. You can’t live that way. They will find ways to get on with their lives, however difficult that will be, and will have more important things to think about than what their government is doing in the Middle East.
ISIS is not going to weaken the infidel enemy by bombing people. Westerners are not going to give in to ISIS because its values are so far apart from their own that they cannot even comprehend them, let alone embrace them. Only if ISIS becomes more Western, presenting itself as a diplomatic force, will it be able to conduct fourth generation warfare and achieve any outcomes. Are we to believe ISIS does not know this, and wishes to waste resources on actions which are hideous, but ultimately pointless?
Yesterday’s chip wrapper
Ultimately, the West will indeed be damaged by these bombs. But it is not ISIS which will benefit from them: rather it is those who do not want to bother with things like partners – US officials such as the US State Department’s Victoria Nuland, famous for betraying the actual US policy agenda by saying “Fuck the EU” when she thought the microphones were turned off.
We have seen Paris, we have seen Ankara and Istanbul—and we are seeing the same thing again and again. We have heard all the reactions from the public figures who are supposed to have an opinion. Most of these people have fitted these events into their own ideological framework, as you would expect. The trouble is, everyone does expect exactly that.
For a while, the Paris attacks last November made everyone rise in solidarity with the French. They had the emotional impact of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which saw people going out into the street trying to stop tanks with their bare hands. But all those aggrieved protestors in Prague went home, even though their cause never died. Similarly, everyone has stopped putting the French flag over their face on their social media profile page, seeing that even as a gesture it no longer has any resonance.
The more such attacks we see, the less we are interested in condemnations of terrorism and avowals of high principle. World leaders all want to reaffirm their commitment to rooting out terrorism and upholding civilized values in the wake of this latest atrocity. But by doing so, without actually stopping them happening, they will progressively discredit themselves and make whatever action is chosen by their biggest ally the only option.
When President Ronald Reagan was shot by a would-be assassin in 1981 every public figure was asked for their reaction. They all said they were “shocked” or “stunned” that such a thing had happened. Everyone wanted to be seen to be a good person who defended American values, whatever their politics.
But the general public weren’t impressed. Political assassinations weren’t uncommon, and Reagan was a combative figure who revelled in his cowboy image. Whether they loved or loathed him, it wasn’t a great surprise to most Americans that someone had tried to shoot Reagan.
The noble sentiments being expressed weren’t considered genuine, and only made those who uttered them seem disingenuous. It was even openly suggested that Reagan’s entourage had organised the shooting to show how tough he was, the Soviet Union being the primary audience for this. As the White House staff overruled the secret services and insisted that the shooter should be able to get to where he did, this is not as far-fetched as it might seem.
So the US knows that the more the public hear their politicians condemning terrorism but not actually stopping it the less they will respect those politicians, who are not a popular breed to begin with. As time goes on, the only thing the public will listen to is action. President Obama says he killed Osama bin Laden, so despite the lack of a corpse that’s alright. It doesn’t matter how we got there, something has happened which goes beyond words, and for most people that is enough to make them think the problem has gone.
The US knows how it wants to end its phoney war with ISIS. When its partners in name have discredited themselves it can do as it likes without going through the usual channels, and that will be accepted just because everyone is tired. If the Brussels bombings are an example of “fourth generation” warfare, it is the US, not ISIS, which is committing it.
The dishonourable exception
“Terrorism” has been bandied about as a catch-all term for a long time. But few people know anything about how the business of terrorism works, unless they are directly involved. That is one reason it keeps happening. But this lack of knowledge itself demonstrates what another reason is.
Terrorism is put in a different category to regular warfare or political conflict. Differences of opinion which lead to armed conflict are regarded as inevitable products of the human condition. Terrorism is different. It is presented as both a crime and a mental disease, something no reasonable person would ever commit or support.
For the past one hundred and fifty years the Western world has progressively altered its attitude to crime. Prevention is better than punishment, we are told. Rather than executing criminals, or imprisoning them for long periods, we try and find out why they are offending, and then take action which will eradicate this root cause and thus prevent further crime.
Commentators generally accept that the crime and illness of terrorism is mainly fuelled by money. Joining a terrorist group is a way to a better income, however that is obtained, in countries where the standard of living is low. Ideology is part of it, but in most cases far from the whole picture, or even the main element.
At least Western logic, if you want to stop terrorism you don’t punish the terrorists by declaring war on them. You look at where they are getting their money from and stop that supply. You eliminate the anger that fuels terrorism in the first place and start practising what you preach. Ever wondered why you never hear world leaders advocating such a method, in the case of this any one particular crime?
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.