Making sense of one of Europe’s largest terror trials

Published : 08 Dec 2022 07:12 PM

It is a trial held strictly to mete out justice to defendants accused of committing crimes, but it is also a trial that will not fail to revive painful memories of a once heavyweight terrorist organisation that, during its heady reign, outraged our region and the world beyond with its wanton brutalities, nihilistic ideology and utter lack of reverence for human life — an organisation that seemed to attract into orbit men whom you would not for one moment mistake for overachievers.

Ten of these men appeared in a court of law on Monday in Brussels, Belgium, to answer for these crimes — heinous crimes they have committed in the name and at the behest of this organisation. These man, like it or not, are entitled by law to a fair trial.

That right is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, both passed as resolutions by the UN General Assembly.

The men in the dock

The men in the dock — whose mammoth trial is expected to last eight months and to cost 35 million euros — stand accused of committing, on March 22, 2016, the deadliest terrorist attack in Belgian history, where they simultaneously targeted for murder passengers at Brussel’s national airport and commuters at a subway station downtown, killing 32 and injuring over 300.

What is grotesque here is that the accused in this massacre had already been convicted in a French court in June for the shocking terror campaign in Paris in November a year earlier, during which they mounted a series of coordinated attacks that targeted fans watching an international football match at the Stade de France in Saint Denis, a crowd of 1,500 young people attending a rock concert at a theatre in the 11th arrondissement; and ordinary folks sitting in cafés and restaurants along a boulevard in downtown Paris. As many as 130 people were killed and hundreds injured.

The depravity, the senselessness, the horror of it all was, no one will disagree here, unspeakable — effectively the sum total of the bestiality we see when the human mind is severed from its moral roots.

The depravity, the senselessness, the horror 

of it all was, no one will disagree here,

 unspeakable — effectively the sum total  of 

the bestiality we see when the human 

mind is severed from its moral roots

Today, let us, instead of focusing on crime and punishment — which are best left to the judge and jury to weigh — turn to the travails of the survivors of that bestiality, those who lost loved ones or were injured in the blasts, those, that is, who desperately need to “find closure” so that they can leave it all behind and move with their lives.

What kind of journey do these survivors take when they go looking for closure? Is closure really attainable or is it slated to forever elude those victims?

Victims need closure in their lives because by seeking and then finding closure, we are told, they finally discover answers to the cause of the tragedy that had befallen them, which in turn will help them resolve the crushing feelings that that tragedy had created in their being.

Painful experiences

In short, closure closes the door on a painful experience that never seems to never let go your inward preoccupations, that continues to haunt your days, that has you constantly, involuntarily throwing fitful glances over your shoulder, a state of mind that at times will have you waking up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, from a nightmare in which you had relived that very painful experience again and yet again.

The term “finding closure”, a Johnny-come-lately in the lexicon, was first coined in the early 1990s by the American social psychologist Arie Kruglalanki, whose work in the domain of human judgement and belief formation is well regarded in the therapeutic community, and has now acquired permanent tenure in the public consciousness.

Truth be told, there is no consensus on what the term “look for closure” or to “find closure” actually means — indeed on whether “closure” exists at all, out there for victims of emotional trauma to track down and use as a vehicle to heal themselves

We have those who argue that punishing the perpetrator will bring closure to the victim; those others who, conversely, argue that forgiving that perpetrator will do it, forgiveness being a spiritually cleansing act; and those others still who say — pointing to how, as a case in point, the survivors of the Brussels and Paris bombings remain, to this day, several years after the fact, traumatised — that there is no such thing as closure because, though physical wounds heal, psychic ones cause emotional scars that etch themselves, like the Mark of Cain, on the consciousness of a victim forever.

You tap into the cultural — indeed, even the academic — narrative of closure as a healing tool and you find a morass of expositions on the subject. All we know is that for some victims there is no closure. There is no way through, around or out of the grief they feel. Grief in this case is not a chapter in a book you can close at will. Grief has no timetable. No expiration date. Consider this one case in point. Among the victims in Brussels six years ago was Sebastian Bellin, a National Basketball Association (NBA) player who was at the airport that day waiting for his flight back to the US when the terrorists struck. He lost a leg — and his right to play basketball ever again. I wish I knew if Mr. Bellin ever found closure.

Some time, eight months down the road, after the conclusion of this trial, we will say, however severe the punishment meted out, that these monsters got off lightly.

But wait. The case will not end after they have answered for their crimes in a court of law, for the time will assuredly come when they have to answer for them before their Maker — and He, we are told in the Holy texts, doesn’t look kindly on those who inflict wanton violence on His innocent creatures.

Fawaz Turki is a journalist, academic and author based in Washington. 

Source: Gulf News