Ten observations on the Brussels attacks

On March 22, at least four terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State attacked the airport and a subway station in Brussels, killing 31 people and injuring 300 others. Three of the terrorists were killed during the attacks, and one is still at large. Ten observations on this incident follow.

1. Open-borders immigration policy is partly to blame. In a community founded on libertarian principles, immigration would be on an invite-only basis, regardless of who the immigrants are. Someone would have to sponsor an immigrant, have lodging set up for them, have employment set up for them unless the immigrant is wealthy enough to live without working or the immigrant is fleeing an immediate danger, and perhaps have some vicarious liability should the immigrant turn out to be a criminal. Unfortunately, the immigration policies of nation-states do not remotely resemble this standard. They overrule the desires of property owners through their monopoly on initiatory force and exercise exclusive control over who may enter and/or remain within a geographical area. This is bad enough, but to violently monopolize a service and then fail to provide it is even worse. Had Belgium and other European nations refused to allow the terrorists to enter or remain inside their territory or allowed private property owners to impose the same, then the Paris attacks could not have happened.

2. Anti-discrimination laws are partly to blame. Like most Western nations, Belgium violates the private property rights and freedom of association of its citizens by enforcing laws against discrimination. These laws are not as strict in Belgium as they are in France and some other countries, but the Belgian people are disallowed from asserting their individual preferences and working out their biases in action. While the initial response by the Belgian people has been more of a call for unity than a backlash against immigrants, these laws have still deprived them of recourse against an invasion of immigrants that their government has forced upon them.

3. NATO and Pax Americana are partly to blame. Since the United States became the only global superpower, it has taken on a role as a universal defender, particularly of nations which are signatories of NATO. The problem with this is that these nations are less likely to be self-reliant for defense when they can call upon the United States to expend blood and treasure in their stead. This lack of responsibility and initiative leads such nations to be less prepared to deal with threats on their own, and a perception of weakness invites aggressors.

4. The security measures proposed following the Brussels attacks will fail. The three terrorists who attacked the airport detonated bombs near the American Airlines and Brussels Airlines check-in desks, and next to a Starbucks coffee shop. It has been proposed that security measures be located farther away from the airport terminals, but there will be a line of people wherever they are placed, and that is where terrorists will attack.

5. The terrorists have blood on their hands, but so does the Belgian government. The Belgian government let the terrorists in and failed to expel them, banned discrimination against them, disarmed the Belgian people so they could not defend themselves, and conducted an interventionist foreign policy that motivated terrorists to retaliate. While the ultimate responsibility for evil acts falls upon those who commit the acts, there is a vicarious responsibility upon the Belgian government for taking actions which made the attacks possible and likely.

6. The attacks were an example of blowback. Belgium has been a participant in the War on Terror since 2002. Belgian aircraft participated in anti-ISIS operations in 2014-15, and some personnel remain in Iraq. The Islamic State claim of responsibility for the attacks says in part,

“Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central metro station in the center of the Belgian capital Brussels, a country participating in the coalition against the Islamic State.”

7. A backlash is likely to follow. Just as far-right anti-immigrant movements gained ground following the Paris attacks, they are likely to do so again. As Nabil Riffi, an attorney of Moroccan descent who lives in Antwerp, told USA Today, “Recent anti-Muslim rallies in Flemish cities such as Antwerp and Ghent have been relatively small but they may grow in size and become violent. My fear is that they will draw more people to them because the danger is now among us. I think the possibility of the Pegida (an anti-migrant, anti-Muslim movement that started in Germany and has spread to other countries in Europe) rallies in Flanders getting violent is real.”

8. Central governments do not fare well against decentralized enemies. There was a time when major terrorist attacks, like those of 9/11, were the biggest fear of people in the West. This was the height of centralized terrorism, when 19 agents of al-Qaida hijacked four airplanes and killed nearly 3,000 civilians in a well-planned, well-funded, highly coordinated operation. Here, the state displayed its strong suit: it can effectively destroy centralized enemies. If there is a physical target that can be bombed or a living person that can be exterminated, states are usually able to carry out those acts. (Of course, they frequently go overboard with their bombings and killings, which gives more people cause to become terrorists, but statists rarely care about this, as prolonged war is prolonged health of the state.) But in the wake of the War on Terrorism, decentralized enemies in the form of small terrorist cells which act independently have emerged. These have proven difficult, if not impossible, to defeat. Without a clear target to destroy, the state is ineffective. Because of this…

9. The people of Europe must defend themselves. This dark side of decentralization is best fought with the light side of decentralization. Because the state cannot be competent at protecting against this threat (and has done much to cause it), the people must take matters into their own hands if they wish to be safe.

10. Terrorism cannot be solved by more terrorism. Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.” Oxford defines terrorism as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” A government is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on the initiation of force within a geographical area. In other words, a government uses violence and intimidation to keep its population obedient and manage external threats to its operation. This leads to an important truth that few wish to speak: every government is a terrorist organization. For decades, Western nations have attempted to defeat Islamic terrorism with more terrorism in the form of military interventions, to build Western democracies among populations whose cultures are incompatible with such an apparatus, and to arm one faction against another even though such weapons frequently fall into the hands of the most evil and destructive groups. What Western leaders fail to realize is that in the irrational game of Middle East politics, the only winning moves for them are to withdraw from the game or to knock over the board.