Europeans should be worried. But not about the physical threats we experience in our capitals. By Ivan Shalev

The attacks in Brussels this week were a shock to us.I personally boarded one train too early to get caught up in the blast. Colleagues were even closer: some witnessed the aftermath of the tragedy around Maelbeek station. A horror so close to our office here on Rue des Deux Églises, and so foreign to our daily routine here in Belgium.

Thankfully none among the EIP team were on the damaged train or at the airport. We were fortunate. At least 31 individual human beings were not. Our thoughts were with their families and close ones.

A strike at the heart of Europe was expected. Yet, many are asking: do we really need to rely on fortune for our safety? Can we not be more certain that our lives, and those of loved ones, will not be violently taken away while going about daily business?

Our good European selves, made painfully aware that conflict has no borders, should by now be afraid. But not of the unpredictable physical threats we've experienced in our capitals.

Instead we should be afraid of our growing polarisation and the parasitical role that terrorists play on it. We should be worried about the public opinion that equates the suffering reaching European shores to the violent extremism cultivated in our own yards; and mixes the humanity of those calling for empathy and tolerance to the inhumanity of those resorting to radicalism and violence. We should question the failure to act preventively at a time of unprecedented wealth of information and early warning. Most importantly, we should be concerned about the lack of political leadership to design and realise policies on countering violent extremism comprehensively, jointly and effectively at a European level.

I feel a unique privilege to be able to work on prevention and contribute to defeating such threats. There is also immense humility in learning from those who have been experiencing and combating them.

Unfortunately, we remain too ignorant about the suffering of those in our periphery; too indifferent to be proactive about it. Europeans are incited to build walls, to hate, to reject dialogue, to attack and shame understanding. We continue to ignore violence and injustice affecting those who live a bit too far and look a bit too different. And the measure of what is too far or too different shrinks so easily - to fit even the most short-sighted of our interests and instincts. These are not drivers of peace.

Peace starts with empathy for those who share our fate, pain and aspirations. Those living with the same threats in Ankara, Grand-Bassam, Paris, Beirut, Homs, Sana'a or Mosul. Those who still look to Europe as a project of peace.