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Terror in Europe

Belgium, Finding The Proper Way To Soldier On

Many locals are trying to maintain a so-called "belgitude" after last week's deadly terror. But the city's vulnerability is on full display.

At the Maelbeek metro station, a tribute for the victims of the Brussels terrorist attacks.
At the Maelbeek metro station, a tribute for the victims of the Brussels terrorist attacks.
Stefan Hertmans*

-Essay-

BRUSSELS — It's strange to watch how much international solidarity a country is met with when tragedy strikes, even if the beleaguered country has been criticized and held responsible for the very forces that have caused the hardship. Brave little Belgium is back on the world's radar, it seems.

The international support represents a sort of vindication. There's little blame still being directed toward Belgium — its government, its leadership — now that we see the cynical ways that senseless violence destroys any democratic debate. Meanwhile, we repeat like a mantra our mea culpa concerning failed integration of even second-generation immigrants, and it's still not enough. But there are young creative people who are setting an example in the troubled neighborhood of Molenbeek about how to live together peacefully despite cultural differences.

There are circles in Brussels where idealism and a strong will to overcome these differences reign. There's a lot of positive energy in this country. But there are also people here who are capable of committing the cruelest of crimes. And that's the true "clash," in which open minds meet closed ones.

Some of us are left speechless. Others play the "I-told-you-so" game. The problem is that there's no escaping terror as long as hatred is still being fostered by macho politicians, barbaric international wars, aerial bombardment, border conflicts, religious extremism and an overdose of adrenalin. In the name of pain, we need to realize that our characteristic vulnerability is based on moral values: those of a complex, open society.

Receiving international respect and solidarity is ultimately small comfort, and Brussels finds itself collectively perplexed. It's a city that has always embraced non-conformity, one that has worn its cultural diversity proudly like a flag, but now it's paying the price for it. After the attacks, a Facebook image made the rounds showing a hand made out of French fries and giving the middle finger. This typical "belgitude," the capacity of locals to offer unique expressions with some degree of humor, can be a blessing, but there is ultimately nothing to laugh about right now.

Just the other day I'd sent a text message to my son, who attends university in Brussels: Don't take the subway, I wrote. Shortly afterward, the nightmare of the attacks struck. This country must stand strong. This strange, unique and wounded city must soldier on. No matter what. But there is profound sadness in the conclusion that openness can turn against itself, confirmed by the gutlessness of the enemies of our democracy.

*Stefan Hertmansis a novelist who lives near Brussels.

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Geopolitics

New Probe Finds Pro-Bolsonaro Fake News Dominated Social Media Through Campaign

Ahead of Brazil's national elections Sunday, the most interacted-with posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and WhatsApp contradict trustworthy information about the public’s voting intentions.

Jair Bolsonaro bogus claims perform well online

Cris Faga/ZUMA
Laura Scofield and Matheus Santino

SÂO PAULO — If you only got your news from social media, you might be mistaken for thinking that Jair Bolsonaro is leading the polls for Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections, which will take place this Sunday. Such a view flies in the face of what most of the polling institutes registered with the Superior Electoral Court indicate.

An exclusive investigation by the Brazilian investigative journalism agency Agência Pública has revealed how the most interacted-with and shared posts in Brazil on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and WhatsApp share data and polls that suggest victory is certain for the incumbent Bolsonaro, as well as propagating conspiracy theories based on false allegations that research institutes carrying out polling have been bribed by Bolsonaro’s main rival, former president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, or by his party, the Workers’ Party.

Agência Pública’s reporters analyzed the most-shared posts containing the phrase “pesquisa eleitoral” [electoral polls] in the period between the official start of the campaigning period, on August 16, to September 6. The analysis revealed that the most interacted-with and shared posts on social media spread false information or predicted victory for Jair Bolsonaro.

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