Across Europe today, the day started with a sickening twist, a cold hollow in the pit of the stomach that is becoming too familiar to city dwellers in Western nations (and has been despicably present among many of our Southern and Eastern neighbors for years and years).
First and foremost, my prayers go out to the victims of these attacks and their families, as well as for the whole of Europe’s population committed to the vision of a continent whole, free, and democratic. As we in the United States know well from the grisly events on our soil 14 and a half years ago, liberty and democracy are far stronger than these weapons of hate and malice, and we stand with you in this difficult time.
As soon as I saw footage on the news, I began to contemplate the attackers’ target: Brussels. Unmistakably, this cozy European city is the cobblestoned, lively symbol of the pan-European democratic project that began amid the wreckage of the Second World War, which extended for miles in each direction throughout the Belgian countryside, and much further still. Brussels, once witness to some of the worst man made destruction in our history, today houses some of the Western order’s strongest bulwarks, political and military, against chaos and tyranny: the European Union and NATO headquarters. In this way, Europe’s democratic center lies in Brussels, as does the heart of the transatlantic military commitment to freedom.
It is clear to see – democracy is at a critical juncture. External events from the massive influx of Syrian refugees to Russia’s military adventurism have taxed European political and military institutions to their breaking points. The threat to democracy is not only from outside, nor is it only on the European continent. Economic stagnation, weariness of global war, and rising inequality have encouraged in North America and Europe our more ignoble tendencies, which are the instincts to withdraw from our global commitments and to countenance inflammatory rhetoric in political discourse. Making matters worse, democracy is a hard sell. It is not pretty, nor fun, nor easy. Further, democratic development takes place on a scale that often cannot be measured in a woman or man’s lifetime, and its dividends manifest themselves over the course of centuries, not weeks. Thus, it requires consistent commitment over generations.
On both sides of the Atlantic, we must remain steadfast in our resolve to see democracy grow worldwide and withstand the current assaults from within and without. We must not lose sight of the fact that our principles are what make a free, fulfilled life possible, even if the plots of a hateful few are able to take the lives of our loved ones from us. Most importantly, we must remain committed to the very principles under attack, lest we allow terrorism to be successful. These principles are tolerance, inclusion, mutual respect, open dialogue, respect for the rule of law, and above all, recognition that in diversity, there is strength.