Why Brussels? What did poor little Belgium ever do to ISIL?
Nothing, as far as anyone can remember – other than for arresting a few suspects after the ISIL attacks in Paris last year. Or perhaps ISIL is offended by that shameful little statue of the little boy peeing, which has so entertained tourists over the years.
Belgium itself committed some pretty unspeakable acts in central Africa back in the 1960s, but that was during the chaotic era when empires were being dismantled, in Belgium’s case with unseemly and cruel haste. Anyway, ISIL has no identifiable imbedded resentment against the former colonial powers. It is itself a colonial power, in the name of Islam.
But ISIL is not the first perpetrator of atrocities against Belgium. What about the Germans?
In the First World War, thousands of Belgians – civilians as well as soldiers, men and women, young and old – were subjected to systematic German atrocities, refugees reporting widespread incidents of murder, rape, arson and pillage. Belgium had never done anything to Germany to incite such behaviour. Or at least nothing that anyone could recall, other than to plead its neutrality. That alone may have offended a sensitive Kaiser, who wished to be loved by every nation and was prepared to make sure he was by any means available. Otherwise Belgium seemed blameless.
The truth of course is that Belgium simply had the misfortune – or, from the German point of view, temerity – to stand in the way of the Wehrmacht’s planned advance into France.
In the Second World War, the same thing happened all over again. Germany invaded once more, sweeping aside the tiny Belgian army, again in order to confront the real enemies, the French and British armies, to the south.
A century before that, Napoleon had used Belgium as one of the convenient satellites of his empire. And long before that, King Philip of Spain had occupied both of the so-called ‘low countries’, Netherlands and Belgium then combined, for no better reason than that he could.
Poor little Belgium – history’s doormat.
But that still fails to explain yesterday’s atrocities in the form of bomb attacks at the Brussels airport and at a Metro station. Of course, there is no point in trying to explain them. There is no explanation, other than ISIL’s desire to cause as much death and mayhem as possible in as many western, meaning infidel, capitals as possible.
It was Brussels’ turn yesterday. A few months ago it was Paris on the receiving end. Tomorrow it may be London. It has already been London, but the time may have come for an encore.
Better still, from ISIL’s perspective, would be Washington, a payback for Donald Trump’s ill-considered remarks about stopping Muslims entering America. Come to think of it, how would a Trump presidency handle the tumultuous Middle East? Aplomb is not the word that comes to mind. A Trump presidency is not yet a subject to which I have given much thought, on the grounds that I try to avoid thinking about what I dread.
What, meanwhile, is to be done about ISIL?
I haven’t the remotest idea. If I had, I would be on the short list for next year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
There is no action to be taken against people who are unable to think rationally. Short of a full-scale military campaign, of course, and where have such campaigns landed us in the past? In the mess in which we find ourselves now, is the answer.
ISIL’s bombers and beheaders are psychopaths, afflicted by some mad disease that attacks those parts of the brain which govern reason and tolerance. They are not the first of their kind, as history attests. They will probably not be the last. What is troubling is that the rest of us are exposed to it, too.
Some American politicians have succumbed already. Trump for one. Senator John McCain for another. Last night I happened to catch a television interview in which, in that deceptively understated way of his, he ranted about killing off ISIL – meaning wiping it out entirely – with whatever military force would be needed to get the job done. And this from a man who allowed Sarah Palin to be chosen as his running mate.
On balance, there is probably as much reason to dread a right-wing United States administration as there is to fear ISIL.
Meanwhile, we can do no more than brace ourselves for the blasts to come.