Brussels and the sickly stench of violets

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it,” said Mark Twain.

The famous American writer’s quote jumped into my head when I was stuck on a 15 hour flight from Washington, via Houston to Amsterdam to get back to my scared wife, instead of the usual 8 hours it usually takes to Brussels, all thanks to the murderous scumbags at Brussels airport and Maelbeek metro station.

I was, and still am angry. But not for the reasons you think. Of course the attacks are utterly reprehensible. Of course I feel sick to the stomach. The city in which I live and love has been irrevocably changed.

But what makes me angriest is the supine response to these attacks from many Europeans and their leaders as the debate of ‘what do we do now?” begins.

Many have been saying that we shouldn’t change, that we shouldn’t overreact, that we shouldn’t increase security at airports, and worse still, someone actually wrote: “We don’t want to become like Israel.”

“We don’t want to become like Israel.” Wow. Incredible.

Those words made by blood boil. I’m only 42 but I feel completely disconnected from this narrative. Am I already regarded as old School for my fundamental belief that the state’s first duty (in fact in my opinion its only real duty) is to protect its citizens?

There’s a basic and fundamental social contract that exists between people and its government. That contract goes something like this: we entrust the state to safeguard us in exchange for paying taxes, sometimes imposing a few limits to our freedoms, but mostly that we feel protected under their system.

Madrid, London, Paris, Brussels. Hundreds of lives lost, hundreds horrifically injured.

And the EU response? Sticking doggedly, scrub that, stubbornly to the notion that the EU only exists thanks to a border-free unlimited movement across the Schengen area.

That’s fine if you secure your outer borders. I mean, I can easily travel from Beersheva to Tiberias wthout a police stop, but there’s a crucial and fundamental difference:

This unimpeded movement is thanks to the many who protect the borders, ports and airports.

I’ve had so many non-Jewish friends tell me that Ben Gurion security is awful, so many questions, they searched everything, they were intrusive…now these same people are calling for Israeli style security across Europe. The papers here are now starting to write about what lessons can be learned and applied from Israel.

But the EU leadership don’t want profiling, they don’t want to make the painful choices necessary to ensure their citizens are safe from harm.

Usually when I write, I try to stick to the standard 800-900 words for a piece, but today, and unlike the EU response, I feel more words, more pontificating and more prevaricating are meaningless.

So I’ll say this. That Europe needs to wake up. That this is a war. And that Europe is losing.

And it won’t start winning until it starts becoming like Israel. Until it realises that hugging each other, and trying to carry on as normal is not the solution. That it needs to get tough. That the normal rules of engagement don’t apply. That safe and secure borders means difficult and sometimes unpalatable choices and that random stop and searching is not an infringement, but instead protects your citizens.

The current debate of what to do will fail unless the EU looks long and hard at the problem of what open borders and a lackadaisical approach to fighting terror looks like. Defeating terrorism is not pretty. In fact its downright ugly sometimes. But its damned necessary.

Until this “wake up and smell the coffee moment’ takes place, the EU debate feels like the band on the Titanic wondering what tune to play next.

The enemy is already inside the gates. And that sickly smell of violet will only get stronger until the EU acts. And acts now.

About the Author
Alex Benjamin is the director of EIPA, a multi-disciplined pro-Israel advocacy Group based in Brussels, with offices in Paris and Berlin. He is also the Director of Public Affairs for EJA: European Jewish Association, a Brussels based NGO which represents and acts on behalf of Jewish communities across the EU and wider European continent, at the heart of the European Institutions and at bilateral level with Member States.
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