The old country

Several of you have written to express your concern for my family in the wake of the terror attacks in Brussels. I’d like to thank you all for your thoughts, fortunately nobody in our family was directly affected but it’s a terrible situation for everyone involved and Belgium in general.

To many who have emailed I’ve responded roughly “Europe is in trouble and it’s going to get worse before it gets better”. I wanted to reflect for a few days before adding some thoughts here.

In terms of motivation for these terrorist attacks I believe you have to be more nuanced than the “Muslim extremist” storyline that’s readily peddled everywhere. Although Islam and Christianity have a long complicated history, from the crusades to the Armenian genocide to 9/11, our wars in the Middle East and now Brussels, it’s simply not true that Muslims or Christians have some kind of intrinsic hate or motivation to blow each other up. Two of the tenets of both Islam and Christianity are that the material world is a distraction from the spiritual life and that life in this world is just precursor to a heavenly afterlife for true believers. Even though those concepts are easily exploited by those promoting violence, it’s important to recognize most any ideology can be used in that sense. In the 1970s and 80s terrorism in Europe was largely inspired by communism vs capitalism, now it’s Islam vs Christianity.

There are 2 triggers beside the ideology:

1) The social and economic circumstances of the suicide bombers: financially secure and emotionally satisfied people don’t blow themselves up in a train station. However if you look around many predominantly immigrant neighborhoods in large European cities you’ll find a lot of rough areas, crime, poverty, you name it. In those neighborhoods there are plenty of disillusioned people who feel excluded or done wrong by society and culture.

2) Geopolitical factors: the Middle East is known for its proxy wars and many European immigrants come from areas with repressive or authoritarian regimes and internal power struggles. The people behind the violence are simply carrying over their proxy wars to Europe or deciding a way to hurt their enemies at home is to hurt the countries and cultures around the world who support their enemies.

I hope additional security measures prevent more violence in the short term but in the long run I’m not optimistic about the social and cultural issues in Europe, to the point where it affects my thought process about what we may do long term.

I can’t think of any massive migration in history that didn’t come with significant social or economic consequences. Europe lost control of that long ago. Many liberal European leaders have long accepted all the migrants and refugees in a kind of charitable manner, like, “we well to do white people have to at least give these poor people from those bad countries a safe home”. As long as the migrants largely settled together in inner city neighborhoods and sent their kids to bad public schools instead of good private (Catholic) schools, white leaders in Belgium felt good about their charitable act of welcoming migrants but society never fully included or accepted them as equals in daily life.

European leaders also misunderstand the motivation behind the migration. Going back 60+ years, most of the migrants to Europe are not abject poor or refugees from conflict, rather they are working or middle class who are looking for a better opportunity. Lately perhaps they’ve heard that Angela Merkel gives them a free house and 3,000 Euros a month but when they actually get to Europe and start a new life, the gap between the migrant community and “old Europe” has to be painfully obvious to the new Europeans. Meanwhile the “old Europeans” are befuddled as to why the migrants aren’t happy, don’t they have it so much better here than back home, and if not, why don’t they go back home? There is a huge gap in understanding between the cultures, especially in places like Belgium or France which have strong traditional cultures – Belgian people are not known as being the most worldly.

At the end of the day you have a significant minority who feels excluded or wronged by society and culture, easily exploited by those who promote violence for their own geopolitical objectives. Demographics are only going to make this situation more urgent down the road. You’d be naive not to think there will be areas of Europe where no woman will be allowed to walk without covering her face a hundred years from now. The Muslim community will remember the laws that were made “back in the day” preventing their daughters from wearing religious attire to school or at work in public places.

Unfortunately I don’t have much hope that either the geopolitical factors or social/economic issues behind the terror attacks are going to improve any time soon. Sadly the distrust between Islam and Christianity will become more matter of fact with every terrorist attack or drone strike. People in Europe tell me now, they can’t help but look who’s around them while they’re out in public. Sure I understand that but I’m also sure people in Yemen or Pakistan can’t help but look for the nearest ditch or shelter when they hear an airplane or drone overhead.

Back in the day the Incas sacrificed a few kids to the Inca Gods every year for the rains to come. It never failed, the rains came again every year. Surely the average inhabitant of Tawantinsuyo had to believe in the power of the sacrifices. Don’t become one of them: next time you hear about Muslim extremists, a war on terror or an international coalition remember it will rain again in Cusco next year between December and April.

Forget the spin, ask your leaders what they’re doing about all the proxy wars around the world, ask them what deals they’ve made around the world that prioritize business and strategic objectives over the value of ordinary lives. Challenge leaders in “old Europe” as well as the “new Europeans” to deal with the social and economic issues in the immigrant neighborhoods. Challenge everyone to leave their comfort zone, you’ll probably find the other person is a lot like you, only from a different culture.

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