A Call for Compassion Following the Brussels Attacks

With contributions from Sara Malamud and Nathan Blaisdell.Hearts around the world are breaking once again over the tragedy that occurred in Belgium on Tuesday morning. Yet another terrorist attack executed by ISIS, this time targeting innocent civilians at the airport and an underground metro station near the EU headquarters in Brussels. It’s hard to bear such news in the wake of the Paris attacks just four months ago and several others across Europe in recent memory.Sara Malamud, leader of the Euphrates Chapter in Brussels, shared her initial reaction following the attacks:

My immediate thought when I read the headline, which I'm sure crossed many other people's minds, was “not again.” Not only is the frequency of these attacks in the West disturbing and frightening, my next thought went to the ever-growing movement of Islamophobia in Europe and the United States. What kind of backlash will the Muslim community have to deal with now? Will these communities feel more excluded and alienated? As a student in Brussels whose focus is on the Middle East, these are the kinds of questions I think about. With so much pain Belgian families and others around the world are trying to cope with, isolation and creating an environment of hatred is the last thing anyone should be doing. On that morning, a terrible hashtag was being retweeted: #StopIslam. Yet, people in Brussels and other international cities responded negatively to the hashtag and defended the misunderstood religion, which was great to see. It's hard to move towards creating an inclusive society when there are those few attempting to disturb it.

Another familiar question we are faced with is how to respond.We’ve seen condolences flood in from the international community. French President, François Hollande somberly stated, “the whole of Europe has been hit,” while German Chancellor, Angela Merkel announced, “our free societies are stronger than terror.” Other political leaders have pledged their support and solidarity for the people of Belgium, both in their deepest sympathy, and their willingness to reprioritize security and counterterrorism measures.While we can always extend our prayers and compassion to those affected, is there more we can do? As Malamud suggests, isolation or alienation is not the answer. We can’t play into the simplistic worldview that frames the conflict as “us vs. them” or “West vs. Islam.” Rather than allowing these events to exacerbate our differences, we can start by reminding ourselves of our common roots and values.I find courage in these two parallel verses from Christian and Islamic scripture. The apostle Paul said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Similarly, the prophet Muhammad said, “To overcome evil with good is good, to resist evil by evil is evil.” The religions are in agreement on this point, but it’s more than just a moral stand, it’s a strategic one. To fight violence with violence is the response that extremists are hoping for.ISIS wants Western countries to engage in war with them. They want Muslims, who make up one-fifth of the world's population, to be marginalized by their communities in Western countries so they can be convinced to join their apocalyptic battle.We must do the opposite of what ISIS wants. We should embrace the Muslim community, working with Muslims instead of against them, to help root out the minority extremist element. And we should stand in opposition to the Islamophobia voiced by some politicians and reiterated by the mainstream media.Terrorism only wields power through its ability to incite fear in the general population. The best cure for this fear is understanding. It requires patience, listening, and openness to get to know one another as human beings first, before we are identified by our religions, nationalities, and cultures. It may seem a small step in counteracting horrific events like the one we witnessed in Brussels, but it would be a step in the right direction.Image credit: Sara Malamud