Yesterday was tough. After three days of ‘lockdown’ in the city of Brussels it was announced the terror threat level would stay at four for another week, with the metro remaining closed on Tuesday and re-opening gradually from Wednesday. I doubt I speak only for myself when I say this was scant comfort. The world has been watching us for days now and we, in response, have moved from stoicism to humour to frustration. I hadn’t even registered how obsessively I had been checking the news and social media for updates until R pointed it out to me, along with the obvious fact such behaviour is neither productive nor healthy.
I was in London when the 7/7 bombs went off, and that day is etched upon my memory. I have friends who lost friends that day, and what I will always remember is the eerie quietness of the streets as tens of thousands of people trudged in silence out of central London. I have always considered myself to be stoic in the face of terrorism, staunch in my refusal to change how I live because to do so would be to let ‘them’ win. But I can’t deny the recent Paris bombings and tense situation here in Brussels have shaken me to the core.
I’m ashamed to admit I have felt fear, pure and unadulterated, at the thought of resuming my daily commute on the metro. I’m also ashamed to admit I have had dark moments when I have felt quite hopeless about the future of humanity. I realise now the constant flow of information – and, in many cases, sensationalist misinformation – has not been helping me at all, and so today – another day of working from home – I’m going to step away from the news. R said to me yesterday: “Look outside, at all the people in the bars and restaurants. That’s what’s real. Not all of the crap you see reported in the news.”
And he’s right. We have to carry on as normally as we can. We cannot be cowed into living life in the shadows. That’s what they want us to do. It is unsettling to be in this situation but we have to hope it will end soon, and believe there is more good in the world than evil. Because there is. There really is.
Another day dawns in Brussels, and with it the news that police raids in the centre of the city last night – which saw people in the surrounding area either evacuated from, or trapped inside, hotels and restaurants – led to the arrests of sixteen terror suspects. None of these was Salah Abdeslam, suspected gunman in the Paris attacks who subsequently fled to Brussels, possibly with the suicide vest he did not, for reasons unknown, detonate in Paris. None of those arrested last night were found with weapons, which means the stash of arms with which the terrorists are planning an attack on Brussels are, like Abdeslam, still at large.
It’s been a strange couple of days here in the European Union’s capital, with most people heeding government advice to stay indoors and avoid public places. But while we understand the serious nature of the threat, how long can this lockdown really go on for? The Belgian economy surely cannot afford to take the hit of many more days without people spending money in its capital city. And with each day that passes the tourist trade will be suffering untold damage, as people cancel trips in fear of being affected by a Paris style attack. And yet, the strange thing is, despite feeling like we are in the throes of a major disaster, nothing has actually happened. It’s like having a guillotine over our heads and waiting for it to drop. Unnerving, to say the least.
Aside from anything else the culture of fear that has begun to develop feels very much like it is playing into the terrorists’ hands. As one window sign spotted on a Brussels street proclaimed, panic is what they want us to feel. And to some extent it’s working. That’s not to say most Brusselites aren’t being stoic in the face of all that’s unfolding. I for one made a point of attending my writing group meet up yesterday rather than give in to the fear. But today I’ll be working from home, and much as I hate to admit it I am now considering my options where my daily commute is concerned, out of worry about taking the metro.
We can but hope the situation will be resolved, or at least diffused (if you’ll excuse the possibly quite inappropriate pun) soon, so that we might all go back to living a normal existence. Recent events do, however, make one wonder-will we ever feel entirely safe again?