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Brussels Terrorist Attacks: Let's Be Sure to Ask the Right Questions


As this is being written, the terrorist attacks in Brussels have just happened. People are fleeing, police barricades are up, and ambulances are racing to the scene. We will obviously cover this event in depth in the coming days.

Today, though, before we have any accurate data on what happened, let's frame the core questions that SHOULD be under discussion, but that are often neglected in our angry, fearful, knee-jerk response to the outrage that is scrolling across our TV screens.

Terrorist events are typically framed in one of two ways:

  1. There is an intractable conflict between world-views, which creates a war based on: religion; race; language; skin color; or any number of other factors that can serve to separate 'us' from 'them' -- however 'us' and 'them' are defined.
  2. There has been damage to humanity caused by social factors such as privileged-only access to: wealth; opportunity for a successful life; resources required to live a better life such as water, food, and education; and dictatorial, militaristic protection of the privileged existence for the wealthy.

Based on which frame of reference is selected, the response to these attacks will be different. For the first perspective, actions conducted in response (sanctioned and otherwise) will likely include:

  • Increased security: surveillance, intrusion into personal freedom and privacy, visible armed forces, isolationism, xenophobia, attacks on minorities, political polarization, war against some population deemed to be at fault, etc.

For the second, the response will be slower, less visible, and broader. Activities will likely include:

  • Increased initiatives to enhance the access to 'the good life' for the world's impoverished: education programs, expansion of access to technology and health care, increased economic development initiatives in developing nations, and a general call for peace and understanding from world figures like Pope Francis.

A Difficult Discussion

Although it's pretty easy to sit here at the keyboard and draw out these perspectives and actions, and describe the differences between them, all potential responses and calls to action are incredibly complex, and they conflict not only between the two perspectives, but also within each individual perspective. Here are some examples that illustrate how difficult this discussion is going to be:

  • We Americans, in particular, hate intrusions into our personal freedoms and liberties by the government. Yet, one of the demands that will come out in this discussion is the demand for increased surveillance. Surveillance of whom? 'Not me -- just surveillance of the terrorists. Don't you dare surveil me.'
  • We Americans, in particular, hate restrictions on our right to keep and bear arms. Should we enact gun control? 'Yes -- but only the access to guns by terrorists. Don't you dare suggest that gun control should apply to me.'
  • Our American political process that is currently underway has the characteristic of advancing extreme positions to the front, while voices of reason are drowned out. Expect extreme positions to dominate the airwaves in the coming days and weeks -- but this should in no way indicate that the extreme views are the best views.
  • Calls will be renewed to make America more xenophobic. One candidate has already advocated for the complete exclusion of members of one religion from being able to enter the U.S. Expect this perspective to gain credibility in near-term discussions, even though there is no evidence that it would do any good.
  • We Americans have always budgeted in favor of one option over the other: The 2016 military budget is $597 billion; the budget of USAID is $22 billion. There will now be calls for the military budget to be increased to the detriment of the USAID budget. Watch for it.

So these are things to think about as you watch the news in the coming days. Between options one and two, you will likely have a favorite and be 'all in' to advocate your perspective. That's fine. Just be sure that as you do, you fully understand the issues and their ramifications.

Best wishes to Spaceship Earth and the ongoing efforts of honorable people to enable humanity to survive.

Randall Cuthbert Dr. Randall Cuthbert is a retired APUS Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management. He has also worked as a Red Cross Shelter Supervisor, and spent a 20-year career as a US Air Force Civil Engineer Officer. His blogging interests include: protecting & enhancing the EDM profession in the areas of integrity, honorable public service, and social justice; education regarding the 'big picture' role of EDM in our society; educating our professionals and neighbors with regard to the greatest threat to our civilization--climate change; and in general terms, creating a better world for our children and grandchildren.