Brussels Lockdown

alarm-959592_1920  Thirteenth of  November 2015. This date is still on the minds of many people around the globe as the dreadful day when a series of coordinated terrorist acts occurred in Paris and its northern suburb, Saint-Denis. Three suicide bombers struck near the Stade de France, followed by suicide bombings and mass shootings at cafés, restaurants and a music venue, the Bataclan theatre. The attackers killed 130 persons and injured 368. Seven of the perpetrators of the attacks also died. The attacks were the deadliest in France since World War II and the most fatal in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004.  They led French president François Hollande to declare a 3-month state of emergency and launch Opération Chammal, the most extensive French airstrike operation against ISIS to date. Counter-terrorism measures were also taken by other states in Europe and North America. In addition to triggering political reactions, the event resonated with people across the globe, especially on social media where the Twitter hashtag PrayForParis and the Facebook profile filter French Flag were launched so that people could show their support for France and the families of the victims of the attacks.

Many things can be said about the consequences of the attacks in France and elsewhere, but today I want to focus on some of the effects it has had on my home country, Belgium, and more specifically on Brussels, my hometown.

Some of the men that participated in the attacks lived in Brussels and one of the main perpetrators, Salah Abdesalam, who survived the attacks, is suspected to have crossed the French-Belgian border after the attacks. This prompted Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel to announce a lockdown on Brussels by declaring a level 4 security alert, which is defined by the National Security Council as an imminent and serious threat. As a result, subway lines, schools, universities and many shops were closed down for several days. The Winter Market, one of the biggest annual attractions held in December in the center of Brussels risked being canceled and attracted substantially fewer people than previous years. Military personnel patrolled the city, police presence was increased, streets were empty, and the overriding message was to “avoid all crowded places and stay at home if you can”.

In addition to implementation of these security measures, a total of 20 arrests were made in Molenbeek, a neighbourhood in Brussels where some of the Paris attackers lived and where they may have been radicalized. The arrests were coordinated by Belgium’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Jan Jambon, who stated that he would “clean up Molenbeek”.  Molenbeek was scrutinized by foreign media for several weeks after the raids and many European politicians criticized Belgium for its lack of security and anti-terrorism intelligence.  A headline in the famous French newspaper, le Monde, read: “For Belgians, the Abdesalam brothers did not constitute a threat” and the British daily, The Guardian, stated that “Molenbeek was becoming known as Europe’s Jihadi central”.  Donald Trump, one of the Republican Party candidates for the US presidential elections, claimed that “the capital of Belgium had been adversely affected by its lack of assimilation from their Muslim residents”.

As a Belgian living abroad, I was often asked about the state of alert in Brussels and many individuals who were eager to discuss the issue with me had narratives similar to those proposed by the media. This prompted me to read news articles on the subject and talk to my parents and relatives living in Brussels. It brought me to the following conclusion: while these allegations may have some truth to them, it is important for people to carefully analyze the context of the situation before making assumptions about the gravity of the situation in Brussels, and particularly Molenbeek.

First, with the population increasingly feeling frustrated by the lack of public transport, closed shops and closed schools, the level of alert was decreased to 3 on the 27th of November, only 6 days after imposing security level 4. The decision was made without pointing out any real change in the situation, suggesting that the threat may not have been as prominent as had been claimed in the first place.

Concerning Molenbeek, of the 20 arrests made, 16 people were interrogated and 15 were released. This suggests that the majority of those  arrested did not constitute a direct threat to security and that the intervention was carried out as a show of power. Jan Jambon’s solution was to clean up Molenbeek. This is a simplistic solution that is overused by politicians when referring to the perceived threat that neighbourhoods of lower socio-economic standing pose to the general population. It is a dangerous term because it separates the inhabitants of the said neighbourhood from the rest of the population and treats them as the “problem”. It implies that  if something had to be “cleaned up”,  it must have been “dirty” in the first place. Further alienation of a stigmatized group of people can only increase resentment and lead to more violence.

My suggestion is to urge people around the world to carefully analyze the information they are exposed to by the media and political interests when they address the problem of terrorism. They should consult multiple sources of information with differing perspectives in order to have a more informed opinion on the matter.  Increased knowledge and awareness of the factors contributing to terrorism are essential for the initial steps that will hopefully lead to its eradication.

 

 About the author:

Fiorella pic newFiorella (19) attended our Brussels Workshop as a student of Collège Saint Michel. She is currently an undergraduate student in biological science at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Fiorella is interested in politics, arts & literature, sports (climbing), guitar and travel. Her dream job is being a veterinarian for wild animals in a national park. More…

 

Western norms and values

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Heavy times in Europe right now. Everybody was shocked when the first boat sank. But now, when we have to share our land, we are not that shocked anymore. Sinking boats are something from daily life. Suddenly we have to share our little country with another nation, with another culture and another religion. Nobody ever said it should be easy.

When I was little I was taught not to burp at the table. Always to look people straight in the eyes, to have respect for everyone and every culture I was with. These are norms, with the value to respect everyone. In Europe a big discussion is going on right now: do we have the duty to welcome these people? Even though they stick to another culture, another religion?

A few famous, populistic, politicians say we have to overthink our own Western Norms and Values and protect them first, instead of just taking everyone. Even though they see norms and values, which are normal to us, in another way. So, my question, what are these norms and values exactly?

Je suis Charlie. Paris 7th of January 2015. Two men in black suits shot cartoonists. Cartoons emerged afterwards: cartoons from ‘western people’ with duck-tape stuck to their mouths. It seems so important to us: our freedom of expression. We have this famous politician in Holland: Geert Wilders. He is repeatedly accused for insulting remarks/expressions against Muslims. His expressions and speeches are banal and heavy, and many people wonder why he has so many followers. It is because of this, we all had the same feeling when the cartoonist got killed: our freedom of expression is in danger. ‘We have fought for it through history’. I think this is an important value in Holland, so it is in Europe. People get angry when they feel they cannot say what they want, even though it is hurting other humans. Right now, in Poland the government decided to lead the state television, which means they can control when and what people say on television. According the rules from the EU-membership this is forbidden. But with another crisis to carry, the EU doesn’t pay that much attention to this problem. Even though it imparks the Polish citizens’ freedom of expression.

New Year’s Eve. Cologne 1th of January 2016. Sexual harassment is a big issue and was put on the spotlights after the incidents in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. First the refugees came to ‘touch’ our freedom of expression. Now they’re touching our women: the world has gone mad.

So, safety should be a value. Safety on the streets to walk everywhere and at every moment you want, in the clothes you like. So, according to our European identity there are two important values: freedom of expression and safety (no sexual intimidation). The most important values, but in my opinion also the most empty values. I wonder, are you free when the government checks everything you are doing on the streets and on the internet in the name of keeping terrorists away from planning attacks?

For example: in Amsterdam you can be who you are and by that I mean the gay community. The Ministry of Education in Holland decided to educate asylum seekers in gay rights in the Netherlands. As the minister Jet Bussemaker told the media: ‘Refugees often come from countries where female- and gay rights are not always self-evident’. I think this is not only a Dutch value: discrimination is also not allowed in other European countries. So I think we can say that ‘no discrimination’ or ‘tolerance’ also are Western values.

So with this we come to a few important values belonging to our Western European World: Freedom of expression, safety (on every area), against discrimination, tolerance. And with these we also come to another value: the European Identity. Some European citizens are afraid Europe will lose her identity and her dominant culture, when lots of people from other cultures come to live here. I think this is not true, because I think diversity and tolerance towards other cultures and religions is one of the strongest values a country can have. We have to defend this values, but not because they’re ‘our Western values we have fight for through history’. We have to defend and think about them because these are values that are always very important.

What allows us to teach refugees not to condemn people on their sexual preferences if we still condemn people on their culture and religion ourselves?

 

About the author:

Adinda BlankAdinda Blank (18) participated in our workshop in Amsterdam in 2014 as a student of Montessori Lyceum Amsterdam. She is dreaming of becoming a journalist and enjoys history, singing, rowing, drawing as well as writing stories.

Syrian conflict: what is it all about and why we should be interested in it?

syria-1151151_1920Most Europeans do not possibly remember when they last saw a news show where the Syrian conflict was not mentioned. It sometimes appears that we almost got used to hearing about renewed bombings, numerous casualties and fruitless attempts of diplomats to alter the course of events in the Middle East region. However, taking a closer look at the developments in Syria might help to understand many processes in the contemporary world starting with the refugee crisis and ending with the continuing hostility between the United States and Russia.

The roots of the Syrian Civil War lie in 2011. Following the Arab Spring movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, public uprisings against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in Damascus. The peoples of Syria, however, were not as successful in forcing their leader out of power as the protesters in North African countries. A civil war between the government and the rebels began.

In a short time the conflict was no longer limited by the Syrian borders. Iran’s support to Assad’s regime together with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States declaring their support to the rebel forces followed by the involvement of the United States (on rebels’ side) and Russia (on Assad’s side) caused a polarization of all the countries having interests in the Middle East region. The situation was even more complicated by the Kurds (a national minority in Northern Syria) renewing their struggle for independence.

Finally, the conflict gave an opportunity for the emergence of the Islamic State (also referred to as Daesh). The terrorist state was formed after the Syrian al-Qaeda branch fighting against Assad’s regime bearing the name of al-Nusra Front merged with the Islamic State of Iraq and occupied large territories in Eastern Syria. Daesh’s ambitions of establishing a global caliphate and several terrorist attacks have brought the attention of every single nation in the world towards Syria.

What are the results of all this mess? According to Amnesty International, the number of victims of the conflict had reached 220 000 by the end of 2015 and is constantly growing. During the five years of the conflict the economy of the country suffered irreversible damage, numerous human rights’ violations occurred and a chemical weapon was used. At the moment about 50 per cent of the Syrian population is displaced and 4 million people fled their country as refugees.

The question that one may ask is why the conflict continues? Who is it beneficial to? The ones who win the most are, doubtlessly, the terrorist groups. The lack of order in Syrian governmental institutions makes any control of Syrian territory almost impossible, thus allowing the Islamic State to establish its own institutional and economic mechanisms in the east of the country. Uncontrolled Syrian borders also give the IS a possibility to perform international terrorism.

However, the Islamic State is not the main factor preventing either the reconciliation between the rebels and Assad’s regime or the decisive victory of one of the sides. In some ways the situation in Syria surprisingly resembles the local conflicts of the Cold War that took place in Korea or Vietnam. The involvement of Russia and the United States on different belligerent sides turns Syria into the arena of an international conflict between the two greatest military powers in the world.

This clash of the two Cold War enemies also leads any legal international intervention attempts to an impasse: both countries have the right of veto in the United Nations Security Council, which makes passing an effective resolution to solve the Syrian Civil War issue practically impossible. From this point of view the situation cannot be expected to change soon as the conflict remains a matter of influence in the Middle East region which both Russia and the US always sought for.

European countries played little role in the beginning of the conflict but are now being drawn into it more and more firmly. Europe’s role in the Syrian conflict mainly consists of two aspects. First, Europe becomes one of the main destinations of civilians fleeing Syria. Some countries of the European Union advocate the open-door policy while others oppose it, thus causing the internal division of the EU. The problem aggravated as the continuing flow of Syrian migrants gave a pretext to many economic refugees from Northern Africa to search for a better life in Europe despite the absence of any military threats.

The other way in which Europe contributes towards the developments in Syria is the fight against the Islamic State. Following the attacks in Paris France and Great Britain have carried out several bombings in the territory of the IS. However, it is always difficult for democratic governments to receive the popular approval for military actions, which makes it doubtable whether the European role will be significant in giving a decisive blow to Daesh.

The main interest of the European Union is, of course, finishing the conflict. This would sustainably solve the refugee crisis and the newly formed Syrian government would be able to regain territory from the IS. But as military intervention is hardly possible and hardly desirable the main role the EU should play here is that of being a diplomatic intermediary striving to reconcile the belligerent sides. Remaining completely neutral is no longer possible: the conflict taking place in Syria is no longer a local one and it is a duty of every single nation in the world to contribute to solving it.

 

About the author:

Picture Gediminas GodaGediminas (18) took part in our workshop in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2014. He attends International Baccalaureate course at Vilnius Lyceum and is dreaming of being a professor at university in the future. His interests are literature, politics and board games. More…

KILIAN KLEINSCHMIDT

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With more than 800,000 asylum seeking refugees coming to Europe in 2015 only, the global refugee crisis has become one of the most sensitive and highly discussed topics of our time. The movement of undocumented migrants from various Middle East and African countries to the Mediterranean region that started in 2007 has now reached a critical point and evoked what is now called the European Refugee Crisis. The continent has proved itself not being politically, economically and culturally ready to deal with the influx of refugees who are seeking after humane living conditions and shelter from Syria, Afghanistan, Mali and other tense conflict areas. Dealing with the chaos of the sudden migration has been an ongoing concern and challenge of the European Union and other European countries.

As a European youth initiative, “My Europe” must be receptive and objective to the problems and challenges that regard our continent. Therefore, we encourage YOU to actively participate in the upcoming Live Chat and express your insights on the subject with a man who has almost longlived experience and expertise on the matter Kilian Kleinschmidt.

Mr. Kleinschmidt, the son of two teachers, grew up in Berlin, Germany. He did not become the “Good Samaritan” in an instant. Kilian Kleinschmidt started off as a carpenter and arguably found his calling for humanitarian work at the age of 26, after an aid worker invited him to help build a school near Timbuktu during Kleinschmidt’s motorbike trip to Mali. He has contributed his life and career to humanitarian purposes ever since.Mr. Kleinschmidt has been an active member of the United Nations and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees for 25 years during which he developed an impressive list of achievements as a humanitarian aid worker. In between his work in Uganda, Kenya and Bosnia, Kilian Kleinschmidt helped organize a camp for the so called ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’ who were displaced and orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War; has been a liaison and a coordination of UNHCR operations in the Great Lakes Region which has long been exhausted by civil war and conflict; coordinated one of the largest humanitarian airlifts in history for Rwandans caught in the rain forest in Congo to name only a few. All of his hard work, charisma and tireless persistence has earned him the nickname of a “Crisis Manager” in aid circles. Maybe because of this binding title Kilian Kleinschmidt was offered another challenging position the Senior Field Coordinator or as he calls it the International Mayor of the second largest refugee camp of Za’atari in Jordan.

In 2012 at the day the Za’atari camp was opened it provided shelter for only 100 families of Syrian refugees, however, during 4 years time the camp has outgrown 120,000 people. With its’ rapidly growing number of residents the refugee camp in Jordan is a living proof of the horror of the Syrian civil war and the regime of Bashar alAssad. When Kilian Kleinschmidt joined his fellow humanitarian workers in 2013 as their leader, what he had found was a campmonster with no objective information about the number of refugees and aid workers within the camp, an increasing number of violent acts, protests and reports of crime and numerous humanitarian problems concerning accommodation, energy, nutrition and water supply that needed to be fixed. As Kilian Kleinschmidt admitted this is one of the most unruly places I have ruled.

The Za’atari humanitarian workers with the help of UNHCR managed to accomplish its’ task of providing first aid to the Syrian refugees, to save thousands of lives, but the precarious atmosphere in the camp did not change. That was the moment Kilian Kleinschmidt started to question whether the standard procedure of providing the people only with opportunity to survive was enough. What he, as the “International Mayor” of Za’atari, had to deal with was not only 100,000 refugees in need of food and shelter, it was also 100,000 individual stories of people who have lost their home, family, friends and dignity. According to Mr. Kleinschmidt we have learned through Zaatari that humanitarian aid tries to make us all equal same calories, the same liters of water, the same tents but it doesnt really look into us as human beings.

Discussions emerged and Kilian Kleinschmidt along with his team of aid workers, invited professional urbanists from all over the world to develop something he called a more organic and more peopledrivenplan of the camp that would successfully connect the space, culture and the services within the camp. The new approach allowed the Syrian refugees to individualise their settlement in Za’atari with marketlike shops, various business ideas, even shop in socalled “International Supermarkets” where they could receive their monthly food aid using vouchers and avoiding undignifying queues in the storage room. Kilian Kleinschmidt and his groundbreaking approach helped to start making Za’atari a city rather than a refugee camp.

As Mr. Kleinschmidt once stated What we learned through the camp, through the situation in Jordan, but also through the region, that we must think differently. We have to first of all comprehend the camps as living spaces, as temporary cities, whatever the duration is, and also where change can take place, where evolution of people can take place, and where, in fact, there is a unique opportunity to bring in different thinking and different concepts.

Kilian Kleinschmidt proved himself to be a true believer of change and came up with many bold and even rather controversial ideas. One of them was an attempt to set up his own Za’atari Fab Lab a workshop providing access to digital fabrication tools and 3D printers to the refugees. The idea of refugees using modern technology to create things they needed seemed too futuristic to some critics. “That whole concept that you can connect a poor person with something that belongs to the 21st century is very alien to even most aid agencies,” Mr. Kleinschmidt stated, adding that We have to get away from the concept that, because you have that status migrant, refugee, martian, alien, whatever you’re not allowed to be like everybody else.”

His position towards bringing the 21st century to the refugee camps were met with concern in the UN. Maybe that is why in the year of 2014 Mr. Kleinschmidt decided to leave the UNHCR and settle his own Innovation and Planning Agency in Vienna. His comment on the withdrawal from the UN work was that I left the the UN to be as disruptive as possible, as provocative as possible, because within the UN of course there is certain discipline. I mean I was always the rebel. Humanitarian agencies cannot cope with the crisis. We’re doing humanitarian aid as we did 70 years ago after the Second World War. Nothing has changed and according to Kilian Kleinschmidt our approach to the refugees MUST change.

What can be made to make the change reality? Let’s elaborate on this and many other questions that concerns You during the Live Chat. We kindly invite you to participate and do not miss out on an exceptional opportunity to discuss the global and European refugee crisis with one of the greatest experts in the humanitarian field Kilian Kleinschmidt.

 

Click HERE for direct link to the Live Chat!

 

About the author:

Picture Silvija Kalinauskaitė

Silvija (19) took part in our workshop in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2014.  As many of her peers, she has not decided on a particular profession just yet; but Silvija would love to devote her life to a job that would serve the community, allowing her to challenge her abilities and intelligence. More…

Connecting Europe: the first step to change the world

Trust yourself! (Flickr: Jennifer/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

From an early age we are told our generation holds the future of this beautiful planet we call Home. And it gets me wondering: how can we play our part?

Through “My Europe”, I eventually ended up answering my own questions. I considered this activity a once in a lifetime opportunity to prove how I intend to change the world. Not only it allowed me to get out from my personal comfort zone, but it also provided me an unparalleled chance for my ideas to stand out among millions of others.

In my opinion, we have reached a crucial point where there is no turning back. Changing the route of humanity has now become critical. If we choose not to hold hands and not to get through this terrible transition as one, we might end up saying goodbye to Earth as we have known it until now.

Millions of people have the power to change the entire world. Is there anything more incredible than that? Who wouldn’t love to be a part of something this big? As we live in a century characterized by the evolution of technology and global connection, I believe teens with great communication skills and abilities to combine both speaking and writing in different languages should step forward to intervene. And this is where “My Europe” kicks in. As from now on we should be working with people of various nationalities, ages and backgrounds, I find extremely necessary that the elected ones have also an open-minded personality and a strong attitude.

“We need to start worrying, we have to start acting.”

It is not every day that you get to work on activities like this. This “youth movement” is simply the power to change the future of humankind being given to those with promising plans. As I write this small article, I get to understand how much these kind of programs can change where my future life will be heading to. An incredible journey awaits me. A path I will be crossing surrounded by so many different people with interesting future dreams and hopes, dozens of new cultures to learn about, work strategies to develop, self-discovery to overcome. Honestly I can’t think of a better way to get my position noticed and to spread the word about what, in my opinion, the future holds for all of us. It is easy to create strategies and to dream big, but when it comes to get your ideas to the next level, things get tough.

Nowadays, we may not be able to see most things because we leave our minds elsewhere, if I do say so myself. However, I don’t appreciate missing an opportunity to wonder every tiny aspect of the world. I look around and I see teenagers just like me. Boys, girls, all between the same age range. I think of how many have the power in their hearts to standout but won’t because they are afraid or because they weren’t given the means to do it. I walk to school every day hoping to step on some kind of occasion like this project to change my life.

We all are interconnected beings. We live each day full of need and faith, pain and hope, friends and love. We all should possess the equal value of life. Although some aren’t capable of facing struggle, others live to be their saviour. We need to start worrying, we have to start acting. In my opinion, “My Europe” will eventually end up being more than an idea of connecting Europe’s youth. It will be seen as the next big step towards change. Truth is, few things get me this much excited. This is something I would absolutely be thrilled to be a part of.

 

About the author:
Luisa Moreira
Luisa Moreira

Luisa Moreira (17, from Portugal) attended My Europe’s Lisbon Workshop in November 2014. She believes writing is the best way to make the most out of everything.

“For me, Europe is an open-minded society that supports self-improvement. It is a space where you can easily find a reason to be greater every single day.”

 

Rethinking Europe

Remix by Spotlight Europe
This week’s message is simple and clear: Dear (young) Europeans, be positive! (Picture: Remix by Spotlight Europe)

Once, unifying Europe has inspired millions. Now, negative views on the European integration process prevail in public debates. In Brussels, negative thinking and playing down the achievements made so far are by now fixed elements of the daily political routine. But: Who should think positive of Europe if not its youth?

Sad to say the youth does not even have a real lobby in Europe. Money is being spent, but not enough and inconsiderately distributed so as to prepare Europe’s youth to make a difference of the Europe of the future. These young people between 15 and 20 years – a crucial age in which they will vote for the first time and prepare their professional careers – are the ones who could give the European project back its positive spin.

The latest survey draws a gloomy picture. Take Italy, Germany and France for example: In Italy only 27 per cent feels committed to the European project. In France, the number is determined at 40 per cent whereas in Germany 53 per cent of the respondents feel committed after all. And then: Only 11 per cent Italians, 13 per cent Germans and 23 per cent of French people have positive associations with the Euro as common currency. (Data taken from the recently published study by the Italian opinion research institute Demos & pi, January 2015)

Seeing Europe in a negative way – is it the fault of communication or tangible data? I believe it is both.

The youths of the “My Europe” initiative clearly stated their topics for their future Europe: “Gender Equality”, “Religion”, “Religion”, “Education” and “Employment”. On their next Get2Gather which will take place in Madrid from 23 to 26 April they will present their European values.

The voice of these young people will be loud and clear against the cacophony of defeatists in Brussels and European member states. They know that Europe still has to offer a bright, positive future. Europe is not as powerless and wasted as American professors and Chinese communists like to picture. Europe’s youth advocates a strong and future-orientated Europe!

About the author:

MP1Prof. Dr. Manfred Pohl is the Founder and Chairman of Frankfurter Zukunftsrat, the think tank that organises “My Europe”. more…