After the bombing: Brussels – and Europe – are ‘Boston strong’ too

These senseless bombings show a desperate Islamic State, which can only win if it provokes a hasty overreaction.

Thierry Roge/Pool/Reuters
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (l.), Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel (c.), and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (r.) pay tribute to the victims of a blast in the metro station of Maalbeek in Brussels, Belgium, March 23.

The terrorist attacks on the airport and subway system in Brussels March 22 present an opportunity for people of goodwill around the world to gather new resolve that they will not be shaken, nor abandon their commitment to peaceful, open, free, and democratic societies.

Islamic State terrorists have claimed responsibility for the bombings. The tragedy is the latest in a series of IS attacks in recent months from Paris to Ankara, Turkey, to Jakarta, Indonesia.

The Brussels bombings were carried out despite the city being at a high state of alert. And they struck at the administrative heart of the Continent, the home of the European Commission.

Across the Atlantic, the city of Boston is approaching the third anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013. At a remembrance service for victims days after those bombings, President Obama vowed that “in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good.”

Upon learning of the Brussels bombings, Mr. Obama again referenced what happened in Boston nearly three years ago.

“One of my most powerful memories, and one of my proudest moments as president, was watching Boston respond after the marathon,” the president said. “And that is the kind of resilience and the kind of strength that we have to continually show in the face of these terrorists.”

Both immediately after the Boston bombings and in the months that followed, citizens came together spontaneously to help victims and their families. Today the Boston Marathon continues unabated as a popular, well-attended event, held always on Patriots’ Day, a state holiday honoring those who fought for American freedom.

This strike at the heart of Europe has brought a similar rousing call from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to embrace all that is best about that Continent.

“The murder scene of Brussels reminds us above all that the perpetrators are enemies of all the values for which Europe stands today,” she said, “and which we as members of the European Union believe in – and, particularly on this day, with great pride – the values of freedom, democracy, and peaceful coexistence as self-confident citizens.”

She continued: “Our strength is in our unity, and that is how our free societies will prove themselves stronger than terrorism.”

These senseless bombings show a desperate IS that is losing ground on battlefields in Iraq and Syria, some experts say. According to one estimate IS has lost nearly a quarter of its territory since the start of 2015. Its dream of ruling a Middle Eastern “caliphate” is fading, not flourishing. Thus it is lashing out to “hit everyone and everything” it can, as one terrorism expert puts it.

Terrorist attacks on countries such as France and Belgium, already actively fighting IS, will only strengthen their resolve. But IS could still succeed in part if it manages to provoke a hasty overreaction. Calls to treat all Muslims with hostility and alienation will only be used as an IS recruiting tool.

Instead, efforts must be redoubled to more fully assimilate Muslims  into Western societies. These countries must be places where youths can see a bright future, one they would never risk blowing away.

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