Absorbing the grim reality of Islamist terrorism, many of us have found ourselves changing our ideas about the menace our civilization faces.
The atrocities in Brussels on Tuesday, coming so soon after the November bombings that killed 130 people in Paris, have heightened the meaning of jihadist violence. We knew the world was in trouble. Now we have an appalling sense of how bad the trouble is.
"Everything was OK, and then it was apocalypse," a passenger fleeing the Brussels airport said to a reporter. That's something like the feeling many of us have had while watching this war with the Islamists develop.
For years, people in the West believed that terrorism was a rare event -- outside Israel, at least. We imagined that terrorists who dared attack us would be caught and imprisoned; then it would be over. But the Paris and Brussels attacks, both of them carefully coordinated, make us realize that there's no end in sight.
Our attitudes have already changed more than we expected. Every morning, I get three or four emails from people who are afraid to accept Syrian refugees because some may be terrorists. Did those fears exist in Canada when refugees from the Second World War were coming to our shores? To my knowledge, such fears weren't mentioned when the refugees were Hungarian or Vietnamese.
Reacting to the Brussels attack, a French army general, Pierre de Villiers, said, "More than ever, the French army is mobilized against the terrorist threat. We will win this war." Will we? The leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are steadily recruiting new warriors, and don't see any reason why they should stop. What if they never do?
Yet there's a wistful hope that rises among us: perhaps this could be settled by decent people acting together in the right spirit. This was expressed by British Prime Minister David Cameron. When he heard about the Brussels attacks, he suggested that Christian leaders should help their "brothers and sisters who are Muslim" fight against extremism. In the "dark and difficult world we're currently living in," he said, Muslims want help. "We should be reaching out and wanting to help them battle against extremism. This is the great fight that we have to join. We have to make sure that people who are drifting into an extremist mindset are yanked back."
Islamists may never conquer the West, but they have certainly made our lives more difficult. Since 9/11, air travel has felt like a kind of punishment for passengers. Today, only the old remember a time when flying was a treat. The right to privacy has been assailed, for often justifiable reasons, by security services. The cost of policing has increased in many cities and countries.
Nicolas Hénin, a French journalist who was held hostage by ISIL for 10 months, argues that using the word "war" will only please the terrorists. "That is the last thing they should be saying. The terrorists don't just want to talk about a war, they hope to provoke, within Europe itself, a civil war. But this is not a war, and we must not see it as such. If we adopt a militaristic, warlike vocabulary, there will be no way back from that. We will only strengthen our enemies."
He also says distributing the images of terrorists as ordinary-looking men sends a message that ISIL will enjoy. It says to the West that "the enemy looks ordinary and walks among you. It is one of the goals of ISIL to sow division and make us afraid of one another. That was one of the things I learned during my captivity."
Islamists want to infuriate their enemies in the West and use social media to help them do it. They want to make Muslims angry at other Muslims and non-Muslims alike. They see that as the way to inspire new troops.
The Middle East Media Research Institute assembled some examples this week. On Facebook, someone identified as "Sleeper Cell" posted before and after images of the Brussels airport, captioned "Before and after Allahu Akbar!!!" On Tuesday, a Twitter user in Brussels taunted, "This is only the beginning of your nightmare."
Another posted, "Wait for more bombs, more deaths! Soon in Germany, too!" Another posted, in Arabic, "The lions are still roaring in Brussels, thanks to Allah." Someone claiming to be an ISIL fighter in Libya posted on Facebook, "I am happy today, extremely happy! The Brussels attack has indeed healed the hearts of the believers and striked (sic) terror in the hearts of the enemy!" How have they been taught to celebrate so callously all those deaths, all that misery?
Bernard Lewis, in his book, The Crisis of Islam, describes the happy situation of Islamists: "In a program of aggression and expansion these movements enjoy the advantage of fifth columns in every country and community with which they share a common universe of discourse." Belgium, with its exceptionally large Muslim community, produces the necessary number of fervent outlaws.
Some of them are angry misfits, ripe for conversion to a violent cult; impoverished youth who keep their rage alive by pleading victim status. It appears that about 560 Belgians have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight, the largest group per capita in Europe.
In the West, terrorism has led to an embarrassing willingness to avoid clear thinking. Often we think first, not of the horrendous crimes committed, but of the damaging effect our own words may have. The spectre of Islamophobia hangs over us, rebuking us for our thoughts. Donald Trump's thoughtless and impossible plan to ban Muslims from the U.S. appeals to those Americans who believe many of their fellow citizens, including their president, are refusing to face reality.
Raheel Raza, the Pakistan-born Canadian who helped found the Muslim Reform Movement, believes we don't yet understand the malevolence of the terrorists. "How hard is it to understand that radical Islamist jihadis have declared war on the West?" Raza asks. "It means they will find you and kill you wherever and whenever they can." All of us, she says, should condemn armed jihad as a seventh-century idea that is not applicable in this day and age. She points out that when an Islamist killer shouts out a reference to Allah, police and media ignore those words, lest Muslims in general may be offended. That's foolish because it shrouds the whole issue in gobbledygook.
She says we instead need to challenge openly the Organization of Islamic Co-operation, an association with 57 member states, which describes itself as "the collective voice of the Muslim world." What will the OIC do about the terrorism that has probably shamed so many silent Muslims?
It could start by encouraging Muslims to emulate the Brussels cab driver (of Moroccan descent) who realized on Tuesday that the three men with heavy baggage he drove to the airport must have been the killers.
He led the police to where he picked them up, which turned out to be a well-equipped bomb factory. They identified one of his passengers as a man, now dead, who had been caught in a CCTV shot of three men pushing trolleys through the airport. That was a key to understanding the attacks.
There are a few things an individual can do, given the right motives.