In the twenty-four hours since the Brussels attacks, solidarity is a buzzword which seems to keep reappearing. Solidarity with the victims and their families; solidarity in acting as one; and solidarity in not allowing these terrorists to change our values, society and way of life.
But solidarity must mean more at this challenging time. Now, more than ever, it must be invoked to mean “solidarity as a union to have the bravery to continue to embody the values of our union”. And solidarity means more than bombing as one nation to protect our Europe; a quick fix solution resulting in a more intensified problem within a decade.
To achieve real security and real peace globally, we must look to more long term solutions. In this world of quick fix solutions and instant results, the solutions we need now require a stronger commitment and a more steadfast approach, not only by political leaders during difficult times but also by ordinary citizens.
This is not news; not some grand epiphany; we have arrived somewhere we have been many times before. As Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. We cannot afford to repeat past mistakes. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, RUC police officers frequently conducted raids on Catholic families, often detaining male members of the household and taking them away in the middle of the night. Children, who saw their parents dragged out of their houses, beaten and humiliated, had fresh resolve to rise up against a force they saw as oppressive. In wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, similar tactics were used by Western forces to “secure” towns and villages. Where are these children today? Where are the 10,000 disappeared children wandering alone in Europe today because their parents are still in war zones, dead, or turned away at European borders by European police forces? The children who are being sent back to Turkey to sit in squalid refugee camps for an indeterminate amount of time while they watch through the gaps in the fence as we sit in the luxury of Fortress Europe? These children have the potential to become the threats we face tomorrow as they rise up against forces they see as oppressive: us. The only way to combat this is to start a process of change now, and to reaffirm this commitment over the coming decades. We have to treat these people as our comrades; as valuable members of our society who we must help and not push further away or ignore. For too long we as people have ignored those most in need of our help, and so many of them now see no other option than radical action.
Of course these actions are not solely to blame for this situation. Aristotle said that “poverty is the parent of revolution and crime”, and this is what we are seeing not only in the Middle East but also within our own cities and neighbourhoods. In Europe, it’s often a tale of two cities: A young man in Molenbeek, seeing his parents working low paid jobs just to scrape by while he himself is already being sucked into a cycle of poverty, while on the other hand watching the wealthy and comfortable inhabitants of the European institutions on just the other side of his city. But an opportunity then presents itself: a life of glamour, becoming a “somebody”; someone who commands respect. Once again, this isn’t an original situation: street gangs in the United States recruit young members every day with promises of glamour and wealth. We’ve been here before, and we know that often, this temptation is too great. In the Middle East it’s the same: why be part of a losing force of rebels when you can join the winning force of the Islamic State? There you command this same respect that Europeans are feeling by joining. How can the attractiveness of such jihadist forces be curbed?
To avoid this radicalisation, we need to integrate these people into their societies, and this needs to be about more than “some job, any job”. Integration needs to be about making sure people feel invested in their communities, countries and in a peaceful society in the same way we do. This requires multiple measures including education on culture, customs, language and traditions. However, the most important change we need to make is in ending the culture of “ghetto neighbourhoods” which can be seen in so many cities. Neighbourhoods of refugees or migrants from one country being shoehorned into a one or two block radius. These people who already feel far from home and in a strange country are immediately isolated both physically and mentally from their new home. These neighbourhoods consequently become hotbeds for crime and extremism. We need to accept families from other countries into every neighbourhood, every street, and every village as part of a true integration process. It is up to ordinary citizens to greet these new neighbours with open arms and not to jump on the easy “not in my back yard” mentality. Integration is about creating a feeling of pride and inclusion, which can only be achieved over many decades of work, both in Europe and in the Middle East.
Many will ask “what do we as Europeans get from this?” Why should we accept thousands of strangers to our culture and society with open arms? From a purely economic perspective, we need newcomers to this continent. We as a society are aging and with rapidly declining birth rates we will soon have a work force which is unable to finance the pension system for retirees. By welcoming these migrants and integrating them into our societies, we are welcoming a vast number of new workers, stemming the potential catastrophic collapse of our pension system. Far from a crisis from which Europe needs to protect itself, current refugee inflows are a welcome opportunity for Europe and one which we need to embrace.
There will be setbacks to this process. 18 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, a prison officer was killed in Belfast only last week. But it is the condemnation of that act by the vast majority of society, in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK, which sets it apart. Work on that peace process is still ongoing, and will continue for many decades yet. The Middle East and Europe are no different. Peace must be an ongoing project, not a five-year goal with a defined start and end period.
The solidarity that we champion in Europe needs to be a brave, inclusive solidarity. A solidarity that is nurtured over many decades, and becomes a given, not a trading chip to be used by successive political alliances. Defence and foreign aid budgets are not for bombing and feeding far away nations respectively at the expense of our own people, but are to be used together, intertwined, to create a secure society not only within our own continents but across the globe: a global security. It is only through this commitment that we can achieve a peaceful society and a secure world.