Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fear and loathing in Belgium

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump

Here's an assortment of half-thoughts, snap reactions, and other unfortunate consequences following the November 13 Paris attacks.
  • The police sirens started on Saturday, the day after the Paris attacks. We could hear them from our house all weekend, and every day since, wailing in the distance.
  • Texted a friend in Paris who wrote back: “All is ok. Fortunately, kids don’t let us go out at night. Crazy. War is war.”
  • Lots of talk of war.
  • Watched all the major TV news stations – BBC, CNN, Canvas – but only found out about the attack in Beirut through Facebook.
  • Went to work on Monday. There too, sirens all day. 
  • Tuesday, Nov.17: the New York Times called Molenbeek a “working class Brussels neighborhood.” That’s one way to describe it.
  • Hello Belgian army! Guys with machine guns are patrolling Brussels North Station. I wonder what they are thinking about. How do they stay alert all day? Do they get coffee breaks? What if they get an itchy trigger finger? All unanswered questions, but I was glad they were there.
  • “Don’t be a slave to your empathy.” - A muslim commentator on Flemish TV when asked about the refugee situation in Belgium, and whether he thought radical muslims were also entering the country. 
  • In the elevator at work I saw a guy who said he had to go home because his daughter was sick. She wasn’t really sick, he said, but she was scared. She’s 11.
  • More sirens.
  • My dad loves Molenbeek. I used to live 5 minutes walk from there and whenever my dad would come visit he’d always do his grocery shopping in Molenbeek. He especially liked the fruit, dates, nuts, and Turkish delights. “If I lived here,” he told me one time, “I’d do all my shopping in Molenbeek.”
  • What happened in Paris is still very fresh, and there’s a nervous sense that Brussels is next. Still lots of talk of war, which is interesting as I’m now reading the book “What Terrorists Want,” by Louise Richardson, a terrorism expert and Vice-Chancellor at Oxford University, and I’m on the chapter “Why the War On Terror Can Never Be Won.”
  • Taking the train into Brussels everyday. Not as carefree as usual. Maybe it’s just my over-active imagination.
  • The War On Terror Can Never Be Won because: “If victory means making the United States invulnerable to terrorist attack, we are never, ever going to be victorious. Here’s why casting a conflict in terms of a war one cannot win is a big mistake. By dispatching an operative into any Starbucks, subway station, or shopping mall in the country and blowing it up, a terrorist group could demonstrate that the most powerful country in the history of the world has not been able to beat it. This is making it too easy for the terrorists…The ultimate goal of any war must be to deny the adversary what it is that he wants. Terrorists want to be considered at war with us, so to concede this to them is to grant them what they want, instead of doing our utmost to deny them what they want.”
  • J'aime the fact that the French are protesting against fear by going to the cafés.
  • I’m torn about going to war. Iraq was a big mistake. Afghanistan only slightly better. Would it turn out better if it weren’t just America’s war? How can we fight radicalism without creating more of it? I don’t know, but we need to do something.
  • “You get used to terrorism.” – French author Michel Houellebecq
  • Friday, Nov. 20: NYT now referring to Molenbeek as “Jihad Central.” A bit harsh, I thought, but I’m also so glad we didn’t buy that apartment we looked at there. It was a cool space, but the neighborhood
  • Friday night, I went for a few drinks in Brussels after work. Hm, where can we go and not get shot? That’s my over-active imagination talking again, right? Three Duvels later I had forgotten all about any threat. There was an army truck parked in front of Central Station, but you know, whatever.
  • “You get used to terrorism.”
  • Late Friday night, the terror alert dial in Brussels turned from 3 to 4 – the maximum level. An unspecified “immanent and severe” threat was cited. More specifically, one of the Paris attackers was sighted in the area and thought to be wearing explosives.
  • So much for protesting fear. Brussels cafés, shops, restaurants and metros closed all weekend. Better safe than tipsy. Sorry, sorry.
  • #BrusselsLockDown blows up on Twitter. 
  • The lockdown continues into Monday. Schools closed now too. Working from home until further notice.
  • Read another article this week with this eerie line: “The Islamic State has come to be known around the world by names like ISIS and ISIL. But in Raqqa (Syria), residents began calling it Al Tanzeem: The Organization.”
  • Cancelled my trip to London. Cancelled my trip to Paris. 
  • Concert in Brussels cancelled. Now it’s personal!
  • People keep saying, “Be safe.” I know what they mean, but what are we supposed to do?
  • Tuesday: I got an email from the director of the school where I take evening classes for French. It said that there was a bomb scare at the school today. Classes cancelled.
  • Got a text from another friend: “I am working from home at the mo. I am however travelling to London tomorrow to see the kids. It is crazy stuff but I think people are overreacting a bit! We’re giving these idiots exactly what they want…Chaos and & fear…”

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