First: some facts. On March 22, 2016, two terrorist attacks – one at 7:58 in Zaventem Airport and the other at 9:11 in the Maelbeek metro station – hit the Belgian capital of Brussels. One year later, a few subdued commemoration events are held.
“It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to make our society more humane and more just. Let us learn to listen to each other again, to respect each other’s weaknesses, and to put them right. And above all, let us dare to be tender. On this day of awareness and recollection, our country owes you this commitment.”
These words are spoken by King Philippe of Belgium. The location is the Schuman Square in Brussels. It’s March 22, 2017, close to midday.
A year ago, life in this city was brought to a sudden halt. Now, on this beautiful, sunny day – as was last year’s – things are back in motion, if still struggling to adapt to a new reality. A morning filled with commemorations and speeches has just ended.
You could tell something was broken in the people on stage. The visible struggle to speak at all, the occasional sob escaping during a particularly heart-wrenching passage. How vulnerable they looked up there, alone facing the crowd.
And yet… A strength emanates from them. Each of them carrying a message in their own particular language. A few common themes: hope in the face of despair and senselessness; the miracle of a complete stranger choosing to save your life; calls for love and unity. Wholly absent: giving in to hate.
Go back a few hours.
It is 9:11.
The stop is Maelbeek. Final verdict here: 16 dead. The King and the rest of the official delegation made their trip from the earlier event at the airport to the station via metro. After observing the minute of silence, a few survivors speak to the small crowd gathered on the underground platform. Christelle is one of them.
As she starts speaking, a loud siren can be heard outside. Later, her words are accompanied by the whirring noise of a metro passing through the station. Sounds that make up everyday life in a city of over a million people, but will never quite sound the same to many of them.
Rewind some more.
We’re gathered in front of Zaventem airport. The final count ran to 16 here too. It’s an unsettling feeling, this… deadly quiet. As if we need constant noise to drown out our thoughts. As if we’re afraid that at any moment, a violent knock can come at the door we’re all hiding behind, coming to take us away against our will. The only noise is from photographers trying to get a good shot. Just doing their jobs, of course. The world keeps spinning.
A list of victims is read out after the minute of silence. The diversity in the names is remarkable; Death laughs at the lines we draw.
A few hours later, news starts coming in from London.
Not again… A thought that has crossed our collective minds too often recently. But yes, again.
As I write this, 20 million people are in danger of dying from starvation in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria. It has been called the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.
In Yemen, this is in part due to the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign – often using weapons supplied by Western countries. Like Belgium, for example. The same Belgium we’ve been talking about. Land of the waffles and chocolate and beer and fries. The Belgium whose government is currently matching every donation made to a fundraiser to combat this famine. This is the absurd world we live in.
Cry if you need to. Shout if you feel like it. Get mad if you’re fed up with all of it.
– But, more importantly:
Hug your nearest loved one. Combat injustice where you see it. Help out a person in need.
Dare to be tender.
And, of course, DFTBA.
Worth watching (video after article, in French with English subtitles): http://deredactie.be/permalink/1.2852344
This is from a few months ago and not directly related to the above. However, it is a beautiful message by a man whose wife was killed during the attacks. Additionally, he comes from Molenbeek – which was described on multiple occasions as the ‘Jihadi capital of Europe’ in the media – and he’s muslim.