Building peace in our communities will be a difficult task. But our shared understanding of human values can help us overcome divisions. By Martin Griffiths
Yesterday we were all Belgians. I hope we will not forget or lose that connection that links the people of Brussels with the wretched families in Mosul or Raqqa, with the revellers in Paris last November.
This connection of shared horror is important because it reminds us of the most treasured asset we have: Our common humanity.
This shared understanding of life also provides us with clues as to how to deal with this common threat. When we set up the European Institute of Peace in 2014, we knew from the outset that our efforts to resolve conflicts abroad must be complemented by similar efforts to resolve the conflicts inside our own societies. Peace is not just something for foreign lands and peoples; it is also a precious dream for Europeans. This is not just a sentimental axiom, it is an acceptance that we are equal in many things, including in evil.
After the attacks in Paris, one senior Syrian Islamist said to me that even in this horror at least we could find a partnership because he and his people have experienced the evil of ISIS for more than two years. He knew our pain. Syrians can help Europeans, he told me, against this common enemy.
It may help us Europeans to listen to the stories of foreign fighters who have seen the actions of ISIS first hand. These stories may even deter future recruits. Europe needs to make an effort to learn and listen. At EIP we try to support this learning exercise.
I have dealt with conflicts all my life. One powerful lesson I learnt is that the principal force for peace are always the ordinary people. Families, whether in Molenbeek or in Mosul, want to see their children safe, healthy and in school. As parents or siblings, we all share this feeling.
My Syrian Islamist friend would be considered by some as an 'extremist'. But I know him as a teacher and a leader of principle who is profoundly religious in a way that is different from me. But we share the principles of our common humanity: of love for children, of respect for difference, and for rejection of evil.
So, yesterday as my morning was disrupted by terror, I remembered this Syrian man and how he would be the first to travel with us out of this horror. He too is a Belgian today.