Thoughts on terror


If you believe in fate then everything happens for a reason. Tomorrow, I depart for Belgium.

The ‘Capital of Europe’ is a land of bikes, chocolate, waffles, chocolate waffles, fries, chocolate fries, beer, chocolate beer. Chocolate, basically. Though I am yet to find a chocolate bike. It makes Belgium’s ladies, the unlikely topic of a terrible statistic. By 2030, 90% of women in Belgium will be affected by the obesity epidemic. Considering that we live in a world in which America actually exists, this is astonishing. My girlfriend is Belgian, just saying…

So what does all this mean for me, today? Tomorrow, I fly to Belgium. Admittedly, not to Zaventem, the target of today’s atrocity, but Brussels South. This elusively named phantom actually sits 60km away in the heart of the Francophone Walloons. It is the seat of Belgium’s mafia. Now you can imagine the threat from this organisation. Especially if we consider our two most popular Belgians in Britain are detectives, Tintin and Poirot. Their modern nemeses must be the Godfathers of Charleroi.

Secondly, I am taking a bus, from Charleroi to Ghent in the ‘virtuous north’, Flanders. Again, this augurs badly in the light of the terrible tragedy in Catalonia, killing thirteen Erasmus students this Sunday. Fate dictates that it is not a good week for flying to Belgium, being young or on a bus. I tick all three criteria. My mother has already phoned to alarm me. “Don’t go. Who knows what might happen? Don’t go near Brussels!” My response to the terrorist attack has been to bypass Brussels. This has added a great inconvenience to my journey. Instead of arriving before midnight, it now looks more like half one. My friend, on Erasmus in Münster, was planning on visiting this weekend. She is now not, citing international terrorism. I think it might just be high bus prices.

Take a bow, Katie Hopkins. This is all very thrilling, I know. Perhaps my angle is a little indirect, but bear with me, reader. This article is an oblique approach to the terrorist attacks on Zaventem airport, the Schumann and Maalbeek metro stations that have already reportedly led to the loss of over thirty lives. “A dark day”, indeed. It is a tragedy. A catastrophe. Awful. I believe all of those words are applicable here. I do not doubt it for a moment. But, what can we do? Not much, if I’m honest. All we can do is continue. Victims of terrorism exist outside of the fate matrix. Happening apparently at random, to anyone, anywhere, at anytime, like a natural disaster or a Malaysian Airways flight. They are quite simply out of our control.

Well, not quite. Terrorist attacks, like those that have struck Belgium today, are carefully calculated, consciously conceived attempts to maximise the loss of life and collateral damage. First blast at check-in. Second blast at the entrance. If the first, fails, the second is a success. Rush hour on the metro. Suits packed tight, more chance of maximum impact. But if they wanted to scare us through quantitative killings, the numbers are too low. What they want is to disrupt us. Then divide. Conquer? They want us to be our own enemies. “Why is there so much hate in the world?” or “F••k religion!” Are the unenlightened responses of many. My qualm is with the media response: “Reports of Arabic being spoken.”

Would reports of French, Dutch or English being spoken, warrant this attention? In referring to Arabic, it is a smear against not only a language that sits fifth on the list of highest native speaking languages (295m in 2010), but a culture, an identity that binds a large portion of the world’s population. We are at risk of conflating language with terrorism, religion with extremism. We will associate Arabic being spoken on the bus, with the risk of a bomb. Operation Yewtree or the Catholic church scandals do not make us afraid of an innocent seventy-year-old grandfather with a seven year-old kid. The pope leaning in too close to a baby. Report him! Put him on the register! No. Is a beard, a hijab or a word of Arabic going to bring the stigma of Islamic State on every non-white in the western world?

I certainly hope not. But I believe so. I suspect this may already be the case. The entrenched differentiation between us and them is already a heightened issue in terms of integration and co-existence in our so-called plural, diverse and multicultural melting pots of society. The cities of today in which the people of the world come together under the name of a single place are no longer beacons of societal success. Yes, London is an example, but, also, an exception. Paris? Times are changing since the November attacks. Brussels? The city is one of the most international cities in the world. This is largely driven by the enormous influx of Europeans flocking to the ‘Capital of Europe’ and finding work in the myriad corridors of the EU, NATO and their related organisations. Everyone has taken a bite out of Brussels. It now stings. Soldiers on the streets. Tanks at the terminal. It stings so hard that the region is now the unlucky recipient of that most unwanted moniker, the ‘European Capital of Terror’.

Bureaucrats, ‘Eurograds’ and the great exchange of European ideas and ideals is the perfect target for a militant extremist, suicide bombing brainwashed terrorist. It is sad that a single city should see the full firing squad of terrorism, when the real target is the ‘west’, each and every one of us. It is a scourge beyond the Belgian. The titchy country of 11 million. Geographically, it is only a little bigger than Wales. But it is the unwitting representative for us all. Durham undergrads? Yes, even you.

We need to realise that there are bigger issues at play here. Yes, lament the loss. Shed a tear. Light the Eiffel tower, red, black and yellow if you really must, François. But don’t start fearing the ‘other’, looking over your shoulder. Introspection will kill us. Dead. They want us to be our own enemies and we are in danger of doing exactly that. I will make it to Belgium tomorrow night. I must. Society continues to function. Of all the fates that lie in wait, my girlfriend’s weight might be the worst.

Photograph: Wikimedia via Creative Commons

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