Brussels Attacks: When Will Our Outrage Lead to a Radical Change in Our Policy Response?

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American Friends Service Committee

Brussels Attacks: When Will Our Outrage Lead to a Radical Change in Our Policy Response?

It's time for us to invest seriously in peace instead of war in the name of the security.

(Photo: Matthias Ripp/flickr/cc)

One week ago, I was in New York City at Quaker House, meeting with with heads of European organizations to discuss the future of global peace building. Yesterday morning, I awoke to the horror of yet another atrocious violent crime.

Another act designed to maximize fear and terror. Attacking an airport and a train station. Places where most of us feel safe. Places filled with movement and life. One of my favorite things to do is to sit at an airport and watch the steady stream of humanity go by. To see the excitement, sadness, trepidation of those going from one adventure to another. Saying goodbyes. Going to work. Reuniting with loved ones and old friends.

And then a bomb exploded and all this is lost.  

"It is time to go beyond prayers and sympathies. We must take a radical step and change the direction of our global policy response."

My heart aches for the families of those on their way to work, breakfast, shops, a trip. I weep with the victims, I weep for Brussels, and I deeply fear a response that further entrenches cycles of violence. 

The symbolism of this horrible violent act – attacking transportation hubs in a safe, cosmopolitan city – increases a global sense of vulnerability.  And we must condemn this.  

But it is not enough to condemn violent acts. This is the latest in a stream of violent attacks around the world – carried out by both state and non-state actors, like ISIS, in recent years. At least 34 souls added to the long list of those killed and wounded in Beirut, Baghdad, Egypt, Turkey, and Paris. Added to the millions of people who have suffered over the last decade as a result of wars and violence in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, Libya, Kenya, and elsewhere.  

Politicians will (and some already have) call for borders to be closed and for airstrikes on ISIS-controlled lands where real people live and where civilians will continue to suffer. This is our historic pattern, and yet the horror of the attack on Brussels still happened.

Do we have any evidence that a decade of militarized and increasingly xenophobic responses has been effective? The cycle of violence continues unabated and has grown more troubling.

Since 2001, the U.S. and our allies’ first response to violent attacks has been to double down on attacks, close borders, and declare war in the name of security. Wars have been fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Drones have bombed targets and many civilians throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. Hundreds of thousands have died, millions have been injured and displaced from their homes. Today, war, despair, and economic hopelessness contributes to a migration crisis that is the largest since World War II.

So many people have suffered as a result of such militarized responses.

And are we more secure? Violence continues to foment extremism globally and in our own country.

As some leaders call for borders to be closed, we must remember that violent acts are not something that is committed only by "others" outside of the U.S. The potential for violence exists in all of us as does the capacity for love and the light of God. In our country, we must remember and mourn the victims of Newtown, Kalamazoo, Charleston, Kansas, and the countless other mass shootings when we think about violence and terrorism.  

We must ask ourselves: When will our outrage at violent acts lead to mass mobilization? When will this collective outrage lead to a serious investment in a vision of a global shared security?

It is time to go beyond prayers and sympathies. We must take a radical step and change the direction of our global policy response. 

We must push our leaders to invest in global shared security that rejects policies based on narratives of fear and military domination. We need to seek solutions that recognize that in our interconnected world, security depends on ensuring that all of us are safe, not just a privileged few who live in cosmopolitan cities. We must create conditions where people can enjoy their human rights and meet their basic needs and to promote resilient, nonviolent responses to the attacks and conflicts that will inevitably arise in our human world.

It is time for us to invest seriously in peace building instead of war building in the name of the security.

Imagine a world where leaders mobilized not to shut borders and bomb targets but where they worked together to prioritize peace building, investing in early interventions and development that address root causes of conflict long before violent extremism festers and conflict erupts.

People want peace. It is time to seek alternatives to the decades of costly, ineffective militarized actions and interventions.  International communities are increasingly seeking peaceful solutions to conflict and to cooperative approaches to solving our world problems, including the problem of violence committed by non-state actors like ISIS.   

A successful strategy will amplify the voice of courageous peace builders: religious and community leaders working every day in communities around the world, often risking their lives to bravely promote nonviolence and mediating with those committing violence. To reduce future violent acts, we need engagement with disaffected communities, groups committing violence, and a serious global commitment to diplomatic and political solutions.

I deeply mourn for Brussels and for victims of violence around the world. Yet even more I mourn for humanity if we cannot see beyond drones, bombs, and guns to address the conditions in all societies that lead to violence, injustice, and exclusion.

Kerri Kennedy

Kerri Kennedy, Associate General Secretary for International Programs at AFSC, has 18 years of experience managing international development and emergency response programs in areas of conflict and post conflict environments with a focus on inclusive governance systems, civic education and advocacy campaigns, gender, and rights-based policy development.

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