Brussels Attacks: Is it a Symbol of Civilisation Clash?

Global Centre Stage

" system of the twenty-first century will contain at least six major powers - the US, Europe, China, Japan, Russia, and probably India…and these belong to five very different civilisations... in addition there are important Islamic states whose strategic locations, large populations, and /or oil resources make them influential in the world politics" -Henry Kissinger in his book World Order.

It was the morning of 22nd March 2016 in Brussels, when three highly coordinated suicide-bombing attacks hit the airport in Zaventem and Maalbeek metro station. The attacks claimed 32 lives, with over 300 people injured. Another unexploded bomb was found during a search of the airport. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks. The bombings were the deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium's history. The Belgian government declared three days of national mourning and concurrently carried out massive search operations to hunt the mastermind and the supporters of the attack.

Let’s analyse why Belgium was selected for the attack? With an estimated 440 Belgians fighting for Syria and Iraq as of January 2015 and considering the proportion of its population, it has more nationals fighting for jihadist forces than any other Western European country. The other reason could be that after Paris attack- the Belgian authorities supported them to nab the terrorists in Brussels and extraditing them to France. Due to Belgium's weak security apparatus and intelligence agencies, it has become a hub of jihadist-recruiting and terrorist activities.

Belgium Failure to Trace Terrorism

Several Islamist terrorist attacks were planned and carried out from Belgium and equal number of counter-terrorist operations was also launched from there. Why it happened so, neither the Belgian Authorities were serious to find out the cause nor the European Union thought on that line. As a consequence, in May 2014, a gunman connected to the Syrian Civil War attacked the Jewish Museum in Brussels, killing four people. In retaliation, in January 2015, the Belgian Authorities raided a group in suspect to be planning a second Charlie Hebdo shooting in Brussels and Zaventem. The Belgian Authorities killed two suspects but were unable to dismantle the so-called terrorist networks fully. In August 2015, a suspected terrorist shot and stabbed passengers aboard a high-speed train on its way from Amsterdam to Paris via Brussels, before he was controlled by the passengers and arrested later.

The Paris perpetrators were said to be based in Molenbeek- where some youths were suspected to sending out short messages over the weekend calling on them to ‘make the right choice’ and ‘fight the westerners’- the texts were sent on Sunday night from a prepaid account that could not be traced or replied to. It was also followed by a video distributed on Facebook, which was later removed, apparently shows local youths celebrating the attacks in Brussels that week. This is the clear indication that the Belgian Authorities were sleeping and still not serious to handle terrorist outfits, which has deep-rooted problem in the society. It is the total failure of the establishment and unless revamped or restructured, the Europe will remain on the verge of terrorism in the days to come.

A case of serious concern is the murder of security guard, who used to work at the Belgian nuclear medical research facility, two days after the Brussels bombings, which deepens the fear that Islamist terrorist outfits are plotting attacks against nuclear installations. The guard was working with the G4S security company and subsequently security pass was stripped by the Belgian Authorities, along with several other workers’ security passes at two nuclear plants in the same week.

Is it really a case of clash in civilisation?

What the world-class diplomat Henry Kissinger has envisaged - is it happening due to clash of civilisation from the covert activities carried out by the world powers? If so, the world leaders are hypocrites to claim that terrorism by its all forms and manifestations is nothing but blind hatred and cowardice. Major powers belong to five very different civilisations while the important Islamic states have strategic locations, large populations, and/or oil resources. It not only adds an advantage to their status but also makes them influential in the world politics. Most of the political scientists agree to the fact that politics is not pure everywhere. The relations between like-minded extreme fundamentalists and the political world leaders cannot be ruled out after knowing about the life and times of Bin Laden and his connection to the US Authorities to defame the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Let’s examine what Samuel P. Huntington says in his book ‘The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World order’ – for people seeking identity and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential. Perhaps, inspired by such a philosophy- the Islamic states, at times, are inclined to each other to fight against their common enemy that they perceive as the westerners and diverge when their internal ideology clashes with each other as the Shias and Sunnis conflict indicates in the Middle East. So, the advantage to world powers is when the regional powers engage among themselves. The civil war in Syria is the result of internal as well as external vested interest of such powers, which the sectarian game changers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia cannot understand. The terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels are no more different strategy of the game played by the world powers to engage the powers such as France and others in Europe. In the words of Henry Kissinger, “…local politics is the politics of ethnicity; global politics is the politics of civilisation. The rivalry of the superpowers is replaced by the clash of civilisations...”

Additionally, Samuel also claims that most dangerous enmities occur across the fault lines between the world’s major civilisations. A civilisation-based world order is emerging - societies sharing cultural affinities cooperate with each other; efforts to shift societies from one civilisation to another are unsuccessful; and countries group themselves around the lead or core states of their civilisations. The culture and cultural identities, which at the broadest level are civilisational identities, are shaping the pattern of cohesion, disintegration and the conflict in the post-Cold War world. Based on this, the way the situation is deteriorating in the Middle East and North Africa, and the sequential terrorist attacks in Europe are leading the world towards disintegration. If the level of such disintegration escalates further, the situation will be out of control in the future.

Is Brussels Attack a Real War of Values?

An article ‘Upholding our values while confronting terrorism, at home and abroad’ by Philippe Maze-Sencier in Friends of Europe- A leading think tank group mentions that the 13th November terrorist assault in Paris was an attack on life’s innocent pleasures and Brussels attack was no difference. While this may be true, this is by far not the whole story, and it is time for Europe to accept that if this is not a clash of civilisations, it is most definitely an ideological struggle and a war of values. European societies are underpinned by values of tolerance, respect, rights and duties as well as the rule of law, and have through an often difficult process managed to find a balance between sequential and spiritual power.

What Philippe Maze-Sencier opines may be true but we have several incidents that speak a different story in Europe. The recent United Nations-sponsored International Criminal Tribunal for the former Bosnian Serb Leader Radovan Karadzic supports that. He was found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica, war crimes and crimes against humanity, 10 of the 11 eleven charges in total, and sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment. He was charged on war crimes, including genocide against Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat civilians during the Bosnian War (1992–95). Similarly, Slobodan Milosevic, who was the President of Serbia (originally the Socialist Republic of Serbia, a constituent republic within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) from 1989 to 1997 and President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1997-2000) was charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia with war crimes, including genocide and crimes against humanity in connection to the wars in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo.

Although, there are ups and downs in the European history - we agree to Phillipe Maze-Sencier as the societies are underpinned by values of tolerance, respect, rights and duties as well as the rule of law, and have through an often difficult process managed to find a balance between sequential and spiritual power. But the most important is this - balance must be preserved, and individual civilisation cannot alone claim any specific or exceptional status. The European Union needs to be steadfast in upholding individual rights but it also needs to be unequivocal as to the duties that go with those rights and what is expected from anybody living in the Union.

Every civilisation has its own values. The human capital within the civilisation gauges the actual value that builds-up within the societies under specific civilisation. The quality of human security, respect to human rights, social tolerance, adherence to rule of law and social acceptance to rights and duties are the essentials of human capital. Socio-cultural developments with mature political system pave a ground to strong economy of a nation. Why country such as Greece has not been able to flourish despite of repeated financial support by European Union and other international organisations? Why Paris attack could not be foreseen well in advance despite of several surveillance and security mechanism and now Brussels is the victim as well?

Root-cause for Clash in Civilisation

With due respect to European rights as well as their values- I want to quote my article ‘Paris Attack: Lessons not Learnt’ published in the Diplomatist magazine in its January 2016 edition as -in the quest of nation-states, the Europeans fought many revolutions to amalgamate emotion and justice within the society in order to guarantee rights of the people and so do Asians and Americans in the later dates. Africa and the Middle East are the newest to fight against colonial powers of the Europe whose resources were the lucrative items for them, whether it was precious metal or stone such as gold or diamond and the fossil fuel to run their power engines.

It was the Europeans, who explored the world and history is the evidence that in form of imperialism they exploited the resources of the backward Asian, African and even Americans. Now, they are aware of their rights and as What Henry Kissinger as well as Samuel P. Huntington said - it is clash between civilisations, values as well as culture. The repeated terrorist attack in Europe is perhaps inspired by such ideology through like-minded fundamentalists within the civilisations. Most likely our societies are even more vulnerable to some global threats in the days to come as - cyber and technology terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and proliferation, space and counter-space intelligence, transnational organised crimes, crime in economic and natural resources and human security.

To counter global threats, we must unite ourselves to preserve strength to repulse them. Unless we empower the failing states and respect the diversity- we cannot garner consensus to fight common threats. We must set our selfish desire aside and help poor to grow their economy. The failure of Eight Millennium Development Goals envisaged by the United Nations to achieve before 2015 by most developing countries is an example of such commitment that has no value.

Go to Content Page

Back to Top

Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.