Given the absence of any serious response to ISIL from our world’s leaders, another radical jihadist attack somewhere in the world was entirely predictable. Just as inevitable, following last week’s tragic events in Brussels, were the meaningless hashtags intended to show solidarity with the victims and citizens of Belgium.
The most popular – #JeSuisBrussels – was inspired by those used following recent terror attacks in Paris: #JeSuisParis and #JeSuisCharlie. It perfectly met the criteria of meaningless, but what was remarkable is how rather than showing solidarity, it managed to offend both of Belgium’s main linguistic groups, the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish.
The Walloons refer to the capital by its French name of Bruxelles. In other words, if you wanted to show solidarity with the Walloons, the correct hashtag (that some Francophones did use) was #JeSuisBruxelles.
Users of the #JeSuisBrussels hashtag also demonstrated their ignorance of the historical tensions between the Flemish and the Walloons, including a determined separatist bloc. Many Dutch speakers refuse to speak French and take offense at being addressed in it, so the use of a French hashtag (or even a broken-French one) would have caused considerable insult.
Beyond the thoughtlessness of the #JeSuisBrussels hashtag, perhaps the bigger issue is the meaninglessness of these devices. Few, if any, of those who took the time to log into Twitter last week would support any concrete actions that might actually prevent a future terrorist attack by ISIS. It’s about as empty as the gesture of slapping a “Free Tibet” bumper sticker on your car.
Mark Steyn best summed up the futility of that in his 2006 book, America Alone.
“Everyone’s for a free Tibet, but no one’s for freeing Tibet. So Tibet will stay unfree – as unfree now as it was when the first Free Tibet campaigner slapped the very first “FREE TIBET” sticker on the back of his Edsel. Idealism as inertia is the hallmark of the movement…He’s [the guy with the bumper sticket] advertising his moral superiority, not calling for action. If Rumsfeld were to say, “Free Tibet? Jiminy, what a swell idea! The Third Infantry Division goes in on Thursday,” the bumper-sticker crowd would be aghast. They’d have to bend down and peel off the “FREE TIBET” stickers and replace them with “WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER.”