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The painful lessons of Brussels seem hard to learn, so they continue

by Rami G. KhouriReleased: 26 Mar 2016

BEIRUT — The terror attacks in Brussels this week, beyond their inherent cruelty and criminality, in themselves are not particularly distinctive or noteworthy in the larger picture of Islamic State and other acts of terrorism, which have become common fare in this era of expanding violence across all continents. Terrorism database compilers are working overtime these months trying to take note of every such act — and that may be the real significance of what is going on these days: hundreds of thousands of desperate and dehumanized individuals transform their former local grumblings or security-forced passivity into a growing global network of terrorists and anarchists whose numbers are beyond the capacity of any intelligence system’s ability to monitor, arrest, prevent, or shut down.

The heart of this criminal universe mainly comprises Arabs or emigrants of Arab descent. The terror problem at its deepest core is the consequence of the dysfunction of mostly Arab societies that have been subjected to more than half a century of security-enforced docility and lack of citizen rights. Nearly 400 million human beings today across the Arab world were born with innate natural and human rights to freedom, identity, growth, and societal well-being, but they have not been allowed to manifest these dimensions of their full humanity.

Economic, political, environmental, and social constraints that have grown more severe in recent decades have sparked a terrible cycle of stagnation and de-development in the minds and capabilities of men and women — while shopping malls, water-pipe cafes, reality television, supermarkets, and cell phone shops have proliferated like mad across the Arab world, in a futile attempt to keep people busy and happy with material diversions.

The rush of oil income since the mid-1970s, the assertion of security-run political systems, and steadily improving life conditions for most Arabs kept the lid on most of our countries — until this once promising world started to fragment and shatter in the 1990s. It has further collapsed in many countries since then, leading to the situation today where hundreds of millions of Arab men, women and children are denied the political, cultural, and intellectual aspects of their lives, as well as their ability to live a decent life due to difficult economic and environmental conditions.

Regional wars that have been waged in the past quarter century by Arabs, Turks, Iranians, Israelis, Americans, Russians, and even a few wayward Europeans continue to spread and make life conditions and future prospects quite chilling for millions of families. These people from turbulent Arab lands now desperately look elsewhere — including Islamic State and foreign lands — for solace, opportunity, shelter, clean water, a meal, medical care, a job, and the prospects that their children might emerge from childhood in salvageable shape, emotionally, biologically, economically, and socially.

The terrorism that spreads around the world is the consequence of all these and other causes that have been steadily building up for decades. It is rationally explained by the multiple, cumulative factors across all dimensions of life that first only generated irritation and discomfort among hundreds of thousands of Arabs 50 years ago; but those denials of citizens’ political, social, cultural, and economic rights have grown and grown for half a century, to spark humiliation and now dehumanization and desperation among millions and millions of people.

Relatively small numbers of them — tens of thousands, or so — have turned to terrorism and other criminal acts, while millions of others have chosen the path of emigration or nonviolent protest to try and achieve the elusive life of dignity, even just normalcy, they believe is their right as human beings and as citizens of modern states. The recent terror attacks in Brussels, Paris, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, and many other countries suggest that the deadly combination of terrorism, desperate societies or urban neighborhoods, and huge flows of frenzied seekers of asylum — and of life itself — has become so large and interconnected that it can only be confronted by a counter-force for decency of equal magnitude.

That counter-force does not exist among autocratic, war-happy Arab, Israeli, other Middle Eastern, and foreign power political leaderships that behave as they do today, as they pursue the same policies that gave birth to the desperation-based terrorism and massive population displacements they ineptly seek to quell, but these dynamics only seem to grow.

The linkages among these factors is made all the more difficult — as Brussels and Paris show — by the fact that small groups of socially-linked militants, criminals, and terrorists operate more and more in autonomous and localized ways, making them more difficult to identify and capture. These small groups know that their inspirations or leaders in Islamic State, Al-Qaeda or other such groups will continue to be killed one by one, which is why they operate in a manner that allows them to expand, one by one as well.

This monster did not come from the moon. It emerged from the grotesquely distorted spirits of serially ravaged men and women who finally chose dramatic death reported live on CNN and BBC rather than a slow death with their children in their own derelict homes across a thousand Arab neighborhoods, some of them in war, but most of them not in war, which is the real crime that underlays this whole gruesome situation.


Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly in the Daily Star. He was founding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. Follow him on Twitter @ramikhouri.

Copyright ©2016 Rami G. Khouri -- distributed by Agence Global

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Released: 26 March 2016
Word Count: 817
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