March 22nd 2016 is a date which will live in infamy. Three cowardly bombings marked the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of Belgium, my beloved home country. They came just a few days after our nation had arrested Europe’s most wanted terrorist. Euphoria and relief turned into fear and sadness in a just a few minutes time, emphasizing once more the fragility of our advanced, free and open society.
At 8 am local time, two suicide attackers detonated nails bombs in the departure hall of Brussels Airport, one near the American Airlines and one near the Brussels Airlines check-in desk. A third bomb failed to explode. One hour later, another suicide attack took place in the subway near Maelbeek station (close to the headquarters of the European Union). So far, 32 people have died and more than 250 are injured, and that balance is not definite yet. Two terrorists are still one the run (although it is rumoured that one of them may be captured at of this writing).
I am still somewhat in shock, like most Belgians. The sickening images of the attacks make my stomach turn (as is the case with every terror attack, whether it be New York, Paris, Ankara, Ivory Coast, or Lebanon). And I feel so many mixed emotions that it is hard to describe them and to put them into words. First of all, I feel so terribly sorry for the victims, their families, and their loved ones, and my heart goes out to them. So many lives are lost and destroyed for nothing, absolutely nothing. I also feel extremely angry, angry with those who have committed these horrific crimes, angry with those who support them (whether it be logistically or in their wicked mind), and angry with our policymakers who have been blind for extremism, allowing a small community inflamed by a Bronze Age mentality to arise within our society. But my anger is tempered by feelings of immense proud and warmth inspired by the unity, grace and serenity our country is showing in the face this national tragedy (watch clip below). Above all, I feel the utmost respect for all the hard work our security forces are doing to try to protect us, although I am confused at the same time when I read all the international press citing blunders, intelligence failures and Belgium’s incompetence to deal with the terror treat (I guess time well tell if our authorities could have prevented this black day in our history). And yes, I feel uncomfortable that the problem may be spiraling out of control, because let’s face it, Brussels and many other European cities have some major problems that have not been dealt with – and even ignored – for decades and it does not feel like our current politicians are booking results yet to improve the situation that was created by their predecessors.
Not only did terror struck my home country in an attempt to destabilize (once again) our Western society, it also affects travelers wordwide, because it creates anxiety and fear, causing people to cancel their travel trips. Every time a horrific event like this happens, the first thought that comes to my mind is that I want to stay at home and be surrounded by the people I love. And while it is very natural to respond to a crisis of this kind in a very emotional way, I quickly realize that to stop traveling would be the wrong decision. Because travel is one of the biggest weapons in the fight against terrorism: it broadens our horizon, it fosters interactions between different cultures, and it creates tolerance and empathy for people who are living lives that are far different from our own ones.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that (Martin Luther King, Jr).