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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*


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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Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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