Like many of you, I woke up to news of the terror attacks in Brussels.
Notifications about the bombings flooded my iPad screen as I opened my eyes.
Some of the latest stories as I write this post:
As the disturbing headlines struck me, I saw a note on Facebook from a fellow Christian, Paul Brazle, a missionary to Belgium with whom my Christian Chronicle colleague Erik Tryggestad and I stayed during a 2009 reporting trip.
Brazle's note said:
'Ik ben veilig!' (I am safe - We are safe.)
With this message, folks in Brussels airport or metro can - via Red Cross data centre - inform family or friends who can't reach them that they are OK. Others... are not so lucky, to be able to say that.
As you wake up today to news of Bombings in Brussels....
we want you to know that we are safely well out of any harm's way, but listening to the news carefully and waiting for news of any in our network who may have had reason to be in the airport today, or near the one metro station in the Europa district where bombs went off.
The Associated Press reports that "there was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday's attacks." Other news organizations — such as NPR and CNN — make no mention of a potential religion angle in their initial accounts.
Belgium's state news agency reported that shots were fired and shouting in Arabic was heard before the explosions at the airport.
I applaud the cautiousness in early stories, even if most of us have no doubt the attacks will be tied to radical Islamic terrorists.
Update: The Islamic State has claimed responsibility:
Factual reporting is so crucial at a time such as this.
Context, too, is important.
Kudos to the Washington Post for a story that helps readers understand why the attacks were not exactly a surprise:
A big chunk of important background from that story:
Molenbeek, an area of northwest Brussels home to around 100,000 people, has emerged as a particular area of concern. “There is almost always a link with Molenbeek,"Michel said last November. "That’s a gigantic problem of course."
The area, just across the Canal not far from some of Brussels's more fashionable areas, first began to fill up with Turkish and Moroccan immigrants around 50 years ago. But while the area has seen some levels of gentrification in recent years, it remains a sharp contrast with more affluent areas of the city nearby: Unemployment has been estimated at as much as 40 percent, and there are many seedy and rundown shops in the area.
Often those from immigrant backgrounds find themselves at a competitive disadvantage on the job market as they speak only French and Arabic when many jobs in the city require a knowledge of French, Flemish or Dutch, and sometimes English. A growing right wing political movement in Belgium has led to feelings of division in the country: Some Muslims say that a 2012 banon Islamic veils like burqas and niqabs in public spaces is a sign of their community's alienation from the Catholic mainstream.
Molenbeek's links to radicalized groups has long been known.
If the Brussels news heads in the direction that seems likely, look for more "Muslim backlash" stories — which have become a sadly familiar storyline — to appear in the media, as they did after Paris and San Bernardino:
There's nothing wrong with that angle, of course. It's certainly newsworthy.
Key, again, is factual reporting that highlights the various strains of Islam (as we have said a million times, there is "no one Islam") and avoids the simplistic "Islamophobia" propaganda that plagued so much of the coverage last time.