I’m following the news in amazement these days. And when discussing it with friends, it feels uncomfortable and troublesome. Even so, I just can’t stop wondering: since when we have come to accept that killing people – potential suspects considered able to commit an act of terrorism – is the right thing to do?
Even though a worldwide war on terrorism has been going on for a while now, I always thought (or maybe better hoped) that at least in Europe, it wouldn’t get so far that police and military forces would start shooting potential suspects. But now, it looks like as if Europe’s response has entered a new phase, a phase in which an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth seems to be a more common response than relying on our legal system. I start to wonder whether I was just being naïve, and should accept it as an unavoidable result of the situation we are in.
Of course, like most, I’m horrified to see, hear and read about the atrocities of terrorist attacks and the impact of these incidents on all the people involved.
And as a response: I see people unanimously marching through the street shouting they are not afraid. United by their desire to demonstrate and safeguard our values and society, marching together for peace and their fight against Islamophobia, applauding the representatives of the police, fire services and medical professions, mourning the victims and paying respect to all those affected.
At the same time, I also notice an increased feeling of discomfort and fear for more attacks, possibly fueled by the overload of attention from the media for each attack. A sentiment which results in citizens and shopkeepers demanding for more security measures, and governments declaring the state of emergency, focused on organising an ever-increasing control and presence of police and military in airports and cities, as well road blocks and border controls. All understandable reactions and possibly valid measures to safeguard the security of European citizens. But also measures and reactions which will result in European countries becoming more and more like militarized states.
So maybe in that context, it is not so strange to read a headline such as the one on the 28 August 2017 informing us that that soldiers in Brussel killed a man while he was attacking with a knife, just because he was considered a potential suspect of a terrorist attack (‘Militairen schieten mesaanvaller dood in Brussel, incident beschouwd als terrorisme‘). Or hear a Dutch expert, who is preparing the court cases for possible returning Syria goers and setting up programmes to deradicalise, indicate that some European countries are deliberately targeting their fellow countrymen who fight for IS in Syria, to make sure they won’t come back alive – just in case they carry out a terrorist attack back home.
I know this is (not yet) the case in the Netherlands, even though some politicians don’t seem to hide their support for such an approach. But even so, the news is highly disturbing to me. And I’m startled by my own confusion and lack of response.
Will this be the new normal? Is this what we want? Is this the way we have, all together, chosen to go? Have we collectively decided to consent to killing of some of our own citizens because they act in a suspiciously, or could potentially commit a crime in the future, to protect others? Without even hearing from them? Without giving them their right to a day in court?
I wasn’t aware we had all decided this was OK. Were you? Or do you think it is OK?
I really don’t want to play down the seriousness and complexity of terrorism and the impact it can have on our lives and our feeling of security. I don’t have an answer to the problems; and I do understand that we need to act in cases like that recently in Barcelona.
But even so, I am amazed to see how this gradual change in response seems to go almost unnoticed or, even worse, how we, including me – maybe because we don’t know what else to do, maybe hoping that this will solve the problem – feel uncomfortable about addressing the matter and silently seem to agree with the idea that the life of some is worth more than that of others, and that killing a person suspected of being a terrorist is OK.
And that makes me wonder: what will happen next? How far will we go? What will we accept before we realise that we are no better than the dictatorial regimes of countries we so often reject.
And that reminds of Martin Niemöller’s poem and I’m worried that we might find ourselves in such a situation, and wonder what we can do to avoid it.
As so often, I really don’t know. All I know is that we owe it to ourselves, and the values and society we so proudly want to protect, to start and discuss more openly what we want, however uncomfortable and difficult it will be.