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After Brussels, After Any Terror Attack, Don’t Retreat to Fear

After Brussels, After Any Terror Attack, Don’t Retreat to Fear:  © Federico Gambarini/dpa/Corbis

© Federico Gambarini/dpa/Corbis

Early Tuesday morning terrorists apparently working with the Islamic State set off explosions in the Brussels Airport and subway. So far the dead number at least 30. Some 230 are injured.

This is awful for the victims and for their loved ones. It’s chilling that ISIS, or at least its supporters, pulled off this kind of attack. Notably, the airport victims were killed in the pre-security area. Savvy critics of airport screening have pointed out this potential weak spot before, and it seems to have been exploited perfectly.

There are a million things to say about an attack like this. You could worry over why everyone cares only when tragedies happen in Europe or the U.S., not in Africa or in Turkey. You could tentatively point out that terrorist attacks are still a rare way to die. You could plead that nobody say anything political until there’s a proper period of mourning for these new victims (good luck with that). Or you could, if you’re running for president of the United States, suggest some horrible, mid-aughts solutions to this horror. You could try and convince people that only you are bold and strong enough to do what needs to be done and stop all the immigrants.

Like Donald Trump did. After the Belgium attacks the GOP frontrunner said we should entirely close U.S. borders, a statement he later walked back but may come back around to again by the time you read this. Who knows? He also doubled down on his pro-waterboarding sentiments. In fact, he said, “I would try to expand the laws to go beyond waterboarding.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, currently snapping at Trump’s heels in the GOP primary race, has The Answer, too. Cruz has shaken off any unpleasant libertarian associations and is now ready to hug the neocons who fear Trump’s spasms of isolationism. Naturally, Cruz took a page out of Trump’s xenophobic book and says no to any refugees from any location with Al-Qaeda or ISIS influence. But better yet, Cruz has a brilliant plan for keeping us safe at home.

Safety means we must “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Cruz doesn’t seem to be aware that police already have the right to patrol anywhere in public, including, yes, Muslim-heavy neighborhoods. He also may not be aware that the New York Police Department spent many years infiltrating mosques in New York City and New Jersey, which led to lawsuits. Presumably, Cruz would like to avoid the lawsuit portion of the evening.

The U.S. government–to say nothing of European ones–has already gone to great lengths to spy on suspicious persons. In the process of searching for the baddest of the bad (which somehow means drug criminals a lot), they manage to violate the privacy of entirely innocent people often. Which is exactly what Cruz is suggesting here. Most Muslims out of the billion-plus in the world have never been violent in their lives. Same with most of the three million Muslims who live in America. However, wouldn’t sending special anti-radicalism police patrols through their neighborhoods and intruding on their worship time be a terrific way to alienate them from America and all of its great stuff?

Muslims and immigrants, especially ones like Sikhs who look Muslim enough to be suspicious, are a terrific target for ire. A handful of Muslims may wish innocent people harm, just like a handful of Americans commit violent crimes.

But don’t we want Muslims in our communities, loving America and not feeling the eyes and electronic gaze of the government upon them? Don’t we want them to know we know most of them are decent, peaceful people who came to the U.S. to make a life for themselves?

If nothing else, the 2016 election has confirmed that distrust of immigrants, especially Muslim ones, still has a powerful push in America. Not yielding to that is the key to being a good human as well as preventing hysterical legislation from being put into effect.

ISIS is a problem, and a frightening, dangerous one at that. But the success of Cruz and Trump pulpit-pounding and scapegoating has its own dangers. Were the George W. Bush years really so long ago and so hard to remember? Do we forget the pages of documents that said torture didn’t do shit? Have we forgotten that W., for all of his unforgivable bloodshed, somehow never got around to actively demonizing Muslims in this bald a fashion? Are our eyes glazing over at the mention of more government spying and more police patrols because it’s still happening to Someone Else? And hell, have we forgotten how much immigrants add to our society? Are we perfectly willing to ignore the hand the U.S. played in destabilizing the places from which so many of these refugees are running?

We all got scared after 9/11, and when no subsequent attacks were very successful (even the ones in Mumbai, Spain and London, thankfully, had much smaller body counts than September 11) we finally, finally started to relax. We still had NSA spying and TSA pat-downs and nude scanners, but we forget to fear terrorism most of all. This was just in time for ISIS to be born. But we’re still pretty goddamned safe, especially in the U.S., and torture and anti-Muslim patrols are not going to make us safer still.

It’s terrible to die in a terrorist attack. It’s also terrible to die of a stroke, from a dog mauling or by slipping in the bathroom. Politicians mostly don’t stand up and tell us that we need to start going after dogs, or strokes or dangerous bathroom rugs with full force. They don’t need our fear in those areas. They need our fear of Muslims and of immigrants. Don’t give it to them.


Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com. Twitter: @lucystag.

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