It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…
We are living in a time of darkness and desperation. We are living in a time of uncertainty, fear and hopelessness. Our time seems to be more violent and dangerous than other periods, more terrifying and insecure and with little hope for the human race. But it is not so. History is full of terrible crimes, violence, terrorism and war; but we live in this historical period, so for us this is the worst time. These are the days of madness.
Whenever there is a terrorist attack we are appalled and outraged. We feel a great sense of powerlessness and anger, and we are confused in trying to understand why. We reflect and try to make sense of what happened. For days and weeks and months, we talk inexhaustibly of that terrible event we perceive as an act of grotesque violence; futile, inexplicable and unjust. We seek explanations. Some become satisfied with superficial interpretations, while others search obsessively for the details that will help make some sense out of the terror.
In reality, many already have their ideas, and seek confirmation of those ideas. We think that perhaps this act of terrorism will change something, that it will be the last. It will teach us something important. Maybe it 's time to change international relations and government policies, or maybe it’s time that policies are implemented.
But nothing changes, other wars break out, there are many more terrorist attacks and history repeats itself. The tragic truth is that history is full of horrible events, acts of terrorism, wars - today, as in the past – both in Europe and in the rest of the world. The rest of the world, especially. On 20 March 2015, 137 were killed by Islamic terror in Yemen; on 18 April 2015, 33 were killed in Afghanistan; on 26 June 2015, 38 killed in Tunisia; on 10 October 2015, 97 killed in Turkey; on 6 March 2016, 47 killed in Baghdad. No big headlines – maybe a passing mention in the press. On 22 March 2016, at least 30 killed in Brussels. All these attacks have been carried out by “Islamic” terror groups, and it is time to stop them everywhere so there can be peace in the Middle East and peace in Europe. It is also time to stop calling them Islamic, as we have blindly and wrongly accepted that definition, and by using it, we are perpetuating the lie that they are Islamic and not simply violent criminals. Arabs and Muslims say, repeatedly, this is not in our name while the main victims of these acts have been Arabs and Muslims. There needs to be peace there for peace here.
Borders drawn into the sand by colonial powers 100 years ago have lost their meaning. The repercussions of the borders that the British and French diplomats, Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, drew in secret during World War I - giving Syria, Mount Lebanon and northern Iraq to the French, and Palestine, Transjordan and the rest of Iraq to the British - are known to every Arab, Christian, Muslim and Jew in the region. This Anglo-French colonial production, and the false democracies imposed in order to rule the Arabs, poisoned the region. The West has become so accustomed to aggressively attacking Arab countries that only when Muslims attacked back, by targeting Western capital cities, did the West suddenly announce that it was at war. The Islamic terror groups have clearly replicated the same barbaric approach.
It appears many of the recent atrocities perpetrated in Europe have been committed by men who have been radicalized in Syria. But it is also true that British Muslims in the UK, French Muslims in France and Belgium Muslims are citizens that have become extremists here, not there. Their aim is clearly to provoke a civil war within Europe. The days are long gone when Western nations could have foreign adventures and expect to be safe at home. New York, Washington, Madrid, London, Paris and Brussels tell us exactly that. There should be justice not only for ourselves or our enemies, but for the people of the Middle East who have suffered - over the past century - from a variety of dictatorships and institutions that the West created for them, and which have helped these radical Islamic terror groups thrive.
It seems like politicians are asking everyone to live with the status quo; it is plainly the way things will be. We are expected to get over the last act of terror and go on as though nothing happened. The day does come when we forget about the last terror attack, and we finally go back to our routines without constant paranoia and fear controlling our minds and souls. People go on as if nothing happened and as if people died in vain, because in fact - in the end - the ones who really lose are those gone forever. Others will continue their journey. Until the next act of violence.
During times of calm - but where violence reigns elsewhere - we are distracted and believe that nothing that is happening in another part of the world is our responsibility, or that one day it can threaten us. While in reality, at the same time that calm reigns here, political plans and strategies of power - fueled by economic interests - materialize and take shape elsewhere. Upsetting the lives of the people we do not see. And perhaps this is the moment when the next act is being planned, and when the next revenge will break the calm and cause chaos. And this time the victims could be us.
We are all busy with our lives and we do not know what is happening in another part of the world, somewhere else, in our name. In the end, it becomes so difficult to put together the whole puzzle. It becomes difficult to grasp that every act of terror and every war is the result of something that came before it. We do not see the connection.
The Middle East and the Arab/Muslim world are unknown and mysterious. We know little of its history, culture and traditions. Or rather, we think we know, but our knowledge is often determined by the opinions of others, as told through the eyes of someone else. It is told through filters, with an ideology and a specific vision. It is told by people like us, who might have values similar to us - or maybe not. We are always accepting the interpretation of others: politicians, historians, and journalists, and we cannot really be sure how we know what we know.
For the Arabs and their many faiths - Sunni, Shiite, Christian and others - it is hard to accept what is happening now in the Arab world. The Middle East that once was, and that was at one time in history considered the cradle of civilization, is being obliterated day by day. The Middle East of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s is not the one we know today. On hearing the notes of the Arabic music and the words of Arab poets and wise ancestors of the time, nostalgia overtakes. Nostalgia for an Arab world that does not exist anymore, because it has become a battleground for all the new weapons built by the Western world, for all the precious resources important to the Western world, and for all the political, military and economic interests that require a Middle East that is divided, weak and controllable.
The pride of being an Arab and a Muslim is quickly fading away, under the constant psychological and information wars that aim to humiliate and attack everyone of them, lumping them all under one big umbrella: that of the terrorist. Made to feel uncivilized, barbarian, and backwards, in addition to being made to feel responsible for a violence and ideology that is despised and repudiated by Arabs and Muslims as much, and even more, than by the western world. The Middle East that once upon a time was full of culture, respect, and an example of coexistence between faiths and ethnicities, has been broken into pieces by the many western wars which have destroyed lives, monuments, and hope.
The Europe that was is also gone, shattered by the repercussions of unjust and misguided policies. Memory of the Arab and Islamic world that once was, cannot fade away and must be remembered, protected and made known. Because this is not the Arab and Islamic world. The hatred and violence are not in their name; peace is in their name. The Europe of unity and diversity must return, and peace must be promoted and advanced by a Europe of peace for peace.
Rania Hammad was adjunct professor of International Relations at St. John's University from 2003 until 2010, amongst other things, she is the author of “The Other Israeli Voices” and "Palestine in my Heart".