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Soon after the Brussels attacks, the political point scoring began, but in taking that approach, the real lessons are lost.
Yesterday, the world was jolted with the news of an organised terrorist attack in Western Europe. The following scenes of grief (and rhetoric) mirrored last year’s attacks in Paris, as the innocent lay dead in the heart of Brussels.
Predictably, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. Not that they needed to, it had all the trademarks of their cowardly approach to zealotry. Even more predictable was the response from those looking to curry favour.
Donald Trump jumped in, calling for an immediate closure of the US borders (specifically that big one in the South). He also used the opportunity to champion the use of torture. He then went on to describe Brussels as “catastrophic,” also making sure he clarified that he wasn’t talking about the attack today, but generally speaking. This, of course, led to the inevitable call to shut down almost all Muslim immigration to the US and, in particular, refugees fleeing Syria.
Ted Cruz, clearly not wanting to be outdone by his Republican stablemate, released a statement with a focus on securing Muslim neighbourhoods and, you guessed it, closing the southern borders.
All of a sudden, the greatest extremist threat to the US was via Mexico.
On the other side of the wall, Bernie Sanders released a statement calling for international unity to destroy ISIS. He also released several tweets, drawing the important distinction between ISIS and Islam, reiterating that we are fighting a “barbaric organisation that is killing innocent people” and not a religion.
Hillary Clinton echoed Sanders’ calls, stating that “Today’s attacks will only strengthen our resolve to stand together as allies and defeat terrorism and radical jihadism around the world.” She went on to remind Trump and Cruz that a wall around the US will not achieve anything as the biggest threat exists online as a vehicle for propaganda, recruitment and radicalisation, facetiously asking “How high does the wall have to be to keep the Internet out.” She also pointed out that she was the only candidate with an actual plan to defeat the threat.
Four of the most publicised people in the world, all vying for the one lucrative position, immediately sewing the means justify their ends. While hands were joined in collective desolation on streets tattooed with earnest messages of funereal hope, the Republicans somehow turned it into a discussion about a wall to keep Mexicans out and the Democrats made it very clear that they were the moderate, reasonable answer to their extremist opposition.
So what, you might ask? They sit in the public eye, and everyone turns to them for comment when a major global tragedy happens. It sadly, but accurately, reflects the diminished value of human life that the political sphere (and the media in fairness) invariably places. In some ways, it’s a necessary evil. A leader faced with a serious military threat must dehumanise his or her soldiers in order to protect the majority. Decisions are made every day, with the best of intentions, that benefit some at the expense of others.
Pushing any type of political agenda in the wake of a tragedy such as this is no different to turning up to a funeral, loudly proclaiming your prowess as a real estate agent, hoping that you’ll get the listing on the deceased estate.
It leaves a very bad taste.
I’m not questioning the authenticity of their sympathy in a situation like this. I’m sure, like the rest of us, they looked to Brussels with a heavy heart. However, anything beyond a message of support to the people of Belgium, even a message of specific solidarity with them, is naked opportunism. Political ambulance chasing, if you will.
Intolerance, cruelty, injustice. Terrible words that define those bitter situations that animate the darkest parts of our better judgement. Violence breeds violence. Fear breeds fear, and while justice should be served, if it means following the behaviour of those who wreak such crimes, then the fight we face is internal as well as places on a map.
As the sun rises over the wounded streets of Brussels this morning, we should count the cost, not the value we can glean from it.