Brussels vs Baghdad: How should I react?

About the author

nargessNargess Moballeghi is a journalist, writer and producer. You can view her blog here and follow her on Facebook here.


Nargess Moballeghi says the reasons behind today’s attacks in Belgium are complex, but when all is said and done it’s the West that created this terrorist monster.

Another deadly attack, this time in Brussels. By the time you read this, the death toll of 23 may well have changed.

Quite clearly this is a retaliatory attack to the arrest of Salah Abdeslam (the Paris terror suspect) on Friday. These attacks indicate how well organised these cells are; to be able to implement such a “successful” operation at such short notice (and a suicide attack at that).

When these attacks happen, especially in Europe, I always have the same instant reaction of mixed emotions. It is so important to express this in a mindful manner in the immediate aftermath of such an event. Not everyone has the same contextual framework, not everyone slots a tragedy into this broader viewpoint the way we do.

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Many people (on both sides) will be on the defensive; some will be angry that you try to make sense of “why” as if this is sort of making excuses for the inexcusable. Others, angry at the clear double-standard between the loss of European life compared to say Arab, will try to “even the playing field” with a “so-what” approach; downplay or dismiss what has happened.

Both positions are wrong

Usually, as these events unfold, I only express my dismay and leave the political contextualisation for a few days after the attack, when there will be no misunderstandings that I am being insensitive or diminishing a tragic event. At the same time though, it is important to express them.

Initial reactions

So here are some of the initial reactions I have had this morning;

The way that I see it is that for decades the foreign policy that has enabled the countries we live in to maintain their power (and subsequently let us live the relatively carefree lives that we do) has been based on the disruption and destruction of others.

Salah Abdeslam

These monsters (ISIS) are just the latest bad guys, and they are frankly not even the baddest. We used to be the monsters. Then we hired the help. And even then, it was out of sight and out of mind, packaged into bite-size form by our limited media.

Times have changed. One of the consequences of this digital world and expanding technology is that we have all lost a little bit of control. And that means the problem can no longer be contained in a far-off land. The “enemy” is amongst us at home. The mass of the victims are being kept out by metal fences on our borders. It feels like it is closing in on us, and it probably is.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep the mess we have made off our doorstep. They say “don’t crap where you eat.” Well today the world is a lot smaller than it was. You may be crapping in Syria and eating in Mayfair, but if I’m writing this in London and you’re half away across the world reading it as we speak, then we’re all sitting in the same living room aren’t we?


Most of the public have not been given, nor sought out, the information to understand the context and reasons why these things are happening. They will react (understandably) angrily, increasing support for the very type of action that has created the problem. In this manner every time this cycle goes round, we are making things worse, not better.

Yes, every time something like this happens, and I see the politicians’ statements and the media coverage, there is always a moment I get super frustrated. This happens daily (multiple times a day) in many parts of the world. It should be important then too. But responding by demeaning the loss of life in Brussels makes this problem worse, not better. Reacting in the exact same way as the thing we hate, makes us just as bad.

And the most important thing to remember is that these innocent victims – whether in Brussels or Baghdad – are victims of the same structures and powers that do not give a damn about the loss of human life (whether it is European or Middle Eastern).

They only care about agenda and image.

Frankenstein’s Monster

“The West” created this monster. Over the years I have gone through many stages of thinking on this issue, but ultimately I always conclude the same – overwhelmingly the issues we are facing today are directly linked to the policies and behaviour of Western Capitalism.

This is so little to do with Islam that it is almost laughable. We grew and maintained our power and societies off the back of “devastation caused abroad and brainwashing at home”. We trained those causing that devastation. We placed and promoted the leaders that maintained that status quo.

Yes, absolutely, national and regional economic and social factors in the Middle East now play a role. Yes, things have progressed and become more complex. But we are nowhere near the point of progress where we can dismiss as insignificant the root cause for why the “other side of the world” looks the way it does.

The West's wars of destruction have radicalised a whole generation of Muslims
The West’s wars of destruction have radicalised a whole generation of Muslims

The core policy has not changed much, though the packaging may look very different. When we look at the latest expression of this, ISIS, at the very least, one element of them was trained by the United States of America. And the outcomes, say in Syria and Iraq, were always clear to those in power in Washington.

Here in Britain, there are at the very least, serious questions to be asked as to how so many known “jihadists” were so easily allowed to pass through the borders to go and fight for ISIS.

All of this means that perhaps when there is a consequence closer to home, there is the pretence that a European life is more important than an Arab’s. But as a matter of policy this is only the case, in so far as there will be more questions and more damage control needed.

If I look at what the government here in Britain is doing to the poorest and most vulnerable; to our health care and our education system. All wrapped up in pretty bows that “we are all in together”. Well, to me, that is enough to prove how little they really care. It is becoming increasingly important that we see ordinary people as one group, all victim to the same politics, though perhaps in different ways.

Where are we going?

It can be difficult to conclude what directions things are going in. And when horrible events like in Brussels happen, there will always be that moment in the day when I am just truly overtaken by sadness and despair.

It can feel that everything is spiralling out of control. You know it will be London’s turn soon. You know Muslims will be blamed. You know everything will ratchet up another notch. Studies have showed that in Europe, anti-Muslim sentiment always spikes after such an attack, but when it lowers again it always “goes back down” to levels much higher than before the spike.

In other words the “base line” of Islamophobia increases every single time. And it will be ordinary Muslims who have to feel the pressure and suffer at home.

More so than ever before, I feel this pressure that we always have to know exactly what we think, and exactly what the truth is, instantly. We must be able to know it confidently, and be able to put it across in the most cocky, attention-grabbing way in 140 characters.

Our view (however wrong or right) can be reinforced and reiterated by a share or a retweet and we can feel confident and even more cocky because of it. More than anything I hate this cycle.

But the whole essence of how we communicate today seems to be promoting and pushing us all in that direction, whether we know it or not. My truth is that, I know a fair bit. But the more I know, the more complex things look to me. I am not always confident in assessing the world today. I have a lot of questions, and that is not a weakness. I want to be able to express my doubts and my differences without being mocked or attacked. I want to be able to have a natural growth in opinion, where I can change my mind or position without being attacked or questioned on it.

But that is not the way anymore. We live in an ever increasing world of pre-judgement and fast-conclusions. And we are all guilty of that. We are not slowing down to think things through. We do not give space for respectful debate. We do not question ourselves. We live in a world where, increasingly every one thinks they are right and will fight to the death to prove that point.

Is it such a surprise then that we are living in the world that we do?

This article is an abridged version of a piece that originally appeared on Nargess’s blog.

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