Leader comment: Only united can we stand against terrorism

Protesters clash with riot police after a solidarity march was disrupted by right-wing demonstrators in Brussels, Belgium. Picture: Getty
Protesters clash with riot police after a solidarity march was disrupted by right-wing demonstrators in Brussels, Belgium. Picture: Getty
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If extremist elements in Europe like those who rioted in Brussels are allowed to foster support then we are giving IS exactly what it wants

Scenes of Belgian riot police firing water cannon to disperse demonstrators in the centre of Brussels leave an ominous and most disturbing impression. A public square – La Place de la Bourse – has become a place of makeshift memorial to the dead. It was filled yesterday with those who had come to express sympathy for the bereaved and solidarity against the gangster jihadists. The mourners found themselves besieged by angry skinheads, some giving the Nazi salute, in an anti-Muslim backlash.

This is the extremist reaction that terrorism breeds. The brutal slaughter of innocent civilians in the heart of Brussels was appalling. But the wider consequences are also deeply troubling: the spread of fear and suspicion, the disruption of everyday life – and the ignition of ethnic and religious tensions at the heart of Europe.

Scenes like those in Brussels yesterday must be a delight to the terrorists of IS: a sign that their brutal and callous killing of civilians is having a disruptive effect in the countries they pick as their targets. Is this not exactly what they are hoping for?

Insofar as the terrorists of IS have a particular and specific target beyond random slaughter, it is the culture and mores of the liberal West – values and beliefs we have nurtured over many years and which form the basis of a peaceful, tolerant and law-abiding society. Our communities are held together by these values. It is these that the gangsters of IS are out to unpick, disrupt and destroy.

It is natural, of course, for people to feel hurt and threatened. That is what terrorism aims to do. It is little comfort that some of the angry emotion on display may reflect frustration at the Belgian authorities for evident lapses in security and their failure to take more robust action in those areas of Brussels which have become home for terrorist networks.

Nor can we take solace from the observation that the backlash on display yesterday did not comprise an organised group but a gang of skinheads who acted like football hooligans. No serious challenge was presented to the authorities once the water cannon had done its work. But this angry chanting and the setting off of flares could mark the beginning of a larger and more organised show of recrimination and hate.

This is the prospect to which the Belgian authorities and indeed governments throughout Europe need to pay special heed. Such clashes pile pressure on politicians just when they need to garner support for difficult decisions. They also give encouragement to unsavoury extremist elements in Europe and an opportunity to rally a frightened people to their dubious causes. Before long, major cities could find themselves having to deal with copycat public disruption.

All this works to create a highly polarised atmosphere that can only act as an incubus for further radicalisation. That is exactly what the terrorists wish to foster. And for that reason we cannot let them succeed. We have to be aware, united and strong in the face of such evil.