The Antidote to Skinheads in Brussels

Once again, is nothing sacred?

Last week the citizens of Brussels wanted to hold a memorial for the victims of the bombings and express their desire for unity.  They gathered at the Place de la Bourse, a central square in the city. They lit candles. They laid flowers. They prayed. They left messages for the victims. About 500 people were present from all backgrounds, including Muslims.   It was a time to mourn. When tragedy strikes, the need to come together is overwhelming.   We feel a deep yearning to reach out to those around us, even strangers.   It’s the Sacrament of the Group, bringing us some measure of solace. Peace was in the air at the Place de la Bourse.

Then into this scene of solidarity and compassion, hundreds of right-wing skinheads appeared. They marched into the square, row upon row of them. Some wore hoods. Some masks. All were in black and many were holding cans of beer. They trampled down the carpet of flowers, they chanted anti-immigrant slogans, and “Death to Arabs.” They gave the Nazi salute. They leered at the news cameras. They had come from football (soccer) clubs from all over Belgium, perhaps 500 to 1000 of them. Some proudly called themselves “hooligans”. These are the men who are drawn to sports because of the possibility of fights, on the field or in the stands. There’s nothing they like better than a brawl.

Those who had gathered for the vigil were horrified. “They’re worse than the terrorists!” one older woman cried. “No, this isn’t possible! Tell me it isn’t true that they’re here!” sobbed one man.

The riot police stood by for a while, but as the situation deteriorated, they moved in. After some extremely tense confrontations, using water cannon, shields and batons, the police managed to isolate the invaders and they were eventually herded out of the area. Some arrests were made.  It was over. “We won!” said one young woman as the vigil resumed. “No we didn’t,” her friend said, “It’s a mess.”

The world is a mess. We thought it was bad in the 60s, now we’re back in the 30s with groups of proto-stormtroopers throwing their weigh around wherever you look. They also are motivated by the Sacrament of the Group, drawing their strength from their comrades-in-arms, but have turned it into something dark, the antithesis of what is sacred.

As we confront terrorism on a daily basis, what do we do about this, the inevitable reaction that many will experience: the hate, the desire to fight back, to lash out at whoever or whatever seems the cause of the problem…?

An excellent article in the Christian Science Monitor shows us the way. A neo-nazi skinhead from Vancouver left all the hate behind him when his daughter was born. “What happened in that moment is that I became connected to another human being for the first time since I could remember.” This is the Sacrament of Birth. It’s a transformative moment that brings out the best in all of us. We’re blown away by the miracle of it all, by the mother’s courage, by the need to take care of that helpless child. That’s the stuff from which to build a new world.

There are seven universal sacraments that bind us to each other by virtue of our humanity.  If we can only make each other aware of what unites us, we’ll have a chance.  The reformed father from Vancouver puts it this way:  “It’s very important for everybody to keep their sense of compassion. If society responds with fear and clamps down, it’s not a nice place to be.”

The reporting from Brussels was translated from Le Monde

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