My sympathy goes out to the survivors and families of those who died in the terrible attacks in a string of bombings over this last week -- from Brussels to Baghdad to Lahore. I was in Brussels on a business trip and was preparing to leave my hotel to catch a flight back to Washington when we got word of the explosions at the airport and the metro station there. The terror that was palpable last week in Brussels is sadly all too common in those five countries that top the list for violent extremist incidents and fatalities: Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Syria. And, we are increasingly seeing the outward ripples.

People gather around a makeshift memorial for victims of Tuesday's attacks, during a peace rally in Brussels, March 27, 2016
Photo courtesy of The New York Times/Daniel Berehulak

“These attacks remind us how closely linked we all are.” – USIP President Nancy Lindborg

Suicide bombings have recently devastated communities in Turkey, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Yemen—and the list keeps expanding. These attacks remind us how closely linked we all are to the kinds of tragedies that have resulted in a historic displacement of 60 million people globally who are fleeing conflict and violence. 

Now, more than ever, we need to demonstrate a global commitment to peace.  We must redouble efforts to ensure that hard-security responses by military, police and other institutions are complemented with work that seeks to understand and address core issues at the root of violence.  

We need to understand the local context that enables someone to succumb to the lure of extremist ideas, and even more urgently, what enables them to commit these horrible acts of violence.  Every context is different, but we urgently need to mobilize the resilience of youth, communities, faith leaders and families to resist extremism.  As our military leaders tell us, we can't fight or arrest our way to durable solutions on violent extremism.  Nor, in the face of Internet recruiting can we delete our way out of this problem by erasing incitements to violence on social media.  

I had gone to Brussels to attend the German Marshall Fund’s annual Brussels Forum and then meet with leaders of our relatively new counterpart, the European Institute of Peace, where my USIP colleague, Jonas Claes, is spending a year.  At the Brussels Forum, the opening session focused on the prospect of “A World Beyond Disorder,” and the first plenary examined "A Grave New Order: Future Global Security Challenges." The discussions proved especially prescient as they coincided with the March 18 deal reached by the European Union and Turkey on the flood of refugees and other migrants streaming toward the continent and with the capture in Belgium of Salah Abdeslam, the main suspect in the November attacks by Islamic State extremists in Paris. Authorities believe last week’s Brussels attacks might have been retribution for the arrest. And so the cycle continues.

I spoke twice at the Forum:  on one panel looking at the potential for a way forward in Syria, and then again as part of a conversation on "Rethinking the Security Paradigm." USIP is working to build peace and address violent extremism at the community level in an arc of fragile countries. We are working in all of the top five countries--Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria--to equip individuals, communities and institutions with the means to manage conflict so it doesn't become violent and to remain resilient in the face of extremist ideologies.

While in Brussels, I also briefed a group of European Union parliamentarians alongside my counterpart at the European Institute of Peace, Executive Director Martin Griffiths, on our respective efforts to address violent extremism. Just a day later, the tragedy of the Brussels attacks became another reminder of how vulnerable we are in an interconnected world.  Building walls and fences cannot solve this problem. Instead, we need to respond to what has become a global emergency with concerted, constructive action to address the root causes of this violence.

Nancy Lindborg is the president of USIP.

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