Yet again, the news comes in of another terrorist attack. This time, it’s multiple explosions in an airport. Brussels, at the American Airlines desk before security. Images of debris, the wounded and the smoke are flooding the media. The politicians haven’t yet come out with their statements of remorse, but facebook have activated their emergency check-in feature, to allow those in the area to assure their friends and family they’re safe. Or not, instead increase the panic and worry that engulfs us with each attack that strikes closer to home. Will there be a feature to filter our profile pictures?
By the time I wake up, the attack is already over. Or not — another one unfolds, this time at a metro station. The news channels all pick up on the fact that it’s near the EU buildings. Now they’ve confirmed it was a suicide bomber. French authorities are deploying extra police to the border with Belgium – the wound from Paris is still fresh. Britain follows suit; the Met are increasing visible presence across London and in Heathrow airport. But don’t panic, the officials say.
Ping. Notification. A friend from Brussels has checked in safe. Sigh of relief. But then, heart drops, as I remember a friend working in the airport I hadn’t thought of. Oh wait, she left the job ages ago. Not that it makes it any better: the police have confirmed deaths at the metro station but not how many. The media claims ten. That’s ten lives, reduced to just an unconfirmed number.
More blasts. Smaller this time. Relax; that’s the police. They’re doing controlled explosions on suspicious items. You can picture the scene; maybe an innocent schoolbag by the side of the road, or abandoned in a public building, is descended on by a large bomb squad, who blow it up. Just in case. Something that would be ignored ordinarily, in an ideal world. But now, everyone is looking over their shoulder. The slightest bang in a shopping centre, when something falls, causes everyone to jump. And pray.
Religion. We’re back here again. Fingers are being pointed already, with nothing yet confirmed.
“Until the wolf shall lay with lamb, we’d better be the wolves.”
On one side, we have the people who are encouraging us to “go get them”. Because of course, we can group millions of people together and blame them all for the actions of a few. Then we have those denying it all. Only, the 15 dead, just confirmed by Metro operator La Stib, didn’t just die by accident. It was tragic, and it was murder. Why does life seem to resemble a Harry Potter book?
Then there are the men and women in red, who ran into the metro station, the airport. They’re the first responders. They don’t hesitate, but instead go and do everything they can to limit the damage. The real heroes, whose names no one knows. Their job is even harder than you can imagine. Have you ever tried to stem the flow of blood, pouring out a shrapnel wound, even though you know your efforts are futile? Pumped on a stranger’s chest, with all your body weight, pressing your lips on to their lifeless face, literally pouring your energy and breath into them, even though it’s too late? Neither have I.
Where do we go from here? Do we build a wall, to keep “them” out? Do we bomb entire cities to discourage them from continuing? Like that will work. Do we pretend the terrorists are actually nice people at heart and go for a cup of tea to explain, in true British politeness, that it was rather annoying what they did?
It’s like being back at school. You get the teachers who continuously let misbehaviour slide, even though it detracts from the rest of the class’s learning. And then the others, who will keep the entire class back at lunch, to punish the handful who are causing trouble. Neither of those are a solution.
Instead, we’ll just keep on crawling through the darkness. Some people will see a hijab and avert their eyes, afraid that they might somehow prompt the wearer to blow themselves up. Others will stare down anyone looking slightly middle-eastern, as if challenging them to explain and excuse the actions of others who resemble them.
Some, on the other hand, will follow the orders for lockdown when they’re given, but otherwise continue with life as usual. Some will refuse to walk with one back to the wall, despite the pattern of stabbing attacks. Some will continue to listen to music with their earphones, even if they don’t hear the shouts of “bombe!” or “baissez!”. They’ll tell us that’s living in fear is what the terrorists want. Maybe they’re right. But isn’t everyone scared? Fear is hanging in the air like thick fog. Perhaps lighting up the Eiffel Tower with the Belgian flag will clear the way a bit.
Maybe there is a “right way forward”. Maybe there isn’t. I don’t really know. Does anyone? Perhaps Yitzhak Rabin did:
“We’ll fight terror like there’s no peace, and make peace like there’s no terror”.