Circle the wagons – and keep the equipment dry
It was a foggy morning when I cycled to the centre. Grey & still – at last a reprieve from the wailing sirens. Very much a White Thursday (“Witte Donderdag” - Maundy or Holy Thursday) I thought, briefly cherishing the mirage of Easter tranquillity … until I got to the Wetstraat – where local television crews and press had gathered in front of the parliament – looking for local political responsibilities for the catastrophe. (Is it because it offers an illusion of control, this tendency of self-blaming when evil strikes? The illusion that we can pursue politics as usual.)
The city-centre felt hung-over, looking shabby and lost. Aha, the place to be for the international press : la Bourse / de Beurs, where the night before people had gathered to light candles and to chalk messages of peace & love on the pavement. The crowds were gone now – a dozen of people loitered aimlessly on the porch of the building, with behind them colourful international flags flapping listlessly. But the international press was perky & alert, going about their business in orderly fashion.
Circle the wagons! About twenty different TV crews formed a neat circle around a bunch of fading flowers and a handful of locals. Each crew was set up with a heap of coffers & equipment under a marquee tent (rainy Belgium), a technician/operator , a camera on a tripod + one journalist in front of it, busy commenting or interviewing whoever was available.
An eager journalist looked my way – I quickly mounted my bike, before Telewisja Polska could stick a mike under my nose.
Later I watched on the web a BBC video on Molenbeek - the journalist had difficulties finding someone who would speak up, apparently it didn't for a moment occur to him to ask his questions in a language other than English.
“Could you please open your rucksack?“
Later that day, in the afternoon, I had picked up my laundry at the Polish laundromat and doggedly continued my way to the local supermarket. Head in hood against the drizzle, my thoughts were bleak.
Silently I was delivering incendiary speeches. Railing against all those predictable opinions so predictably voiced again. Railing against the tiring usual right wing and left wing discourses – both equally inadequate. What an unholy alliance – divisive right wing discourse and naïve ostrich left wing discourse.
My glasses were getting fogged and I was seething – brimming with bloody thoughts. But then I sternly admonished an inexistent audience that we should keep our heads cool. Yes, that’s what we must do! Step back, regroup, analyse what went wrong - dispassionate, objective analysis, without right wing or left wing blinders. Let each (Right, Left, Middle, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Atheist) look in his own sphere of influence and do his bit. And stop telling me that Islam is peace – but please do keep telling it to those whose words and deeds shout out to the world that it is not.
I sped up my step – Yes! That’s what we should do! And we should wake up, too! We are no longer one of the safest cities in the world, as we were 30 years ago (oh yes we were, once). We must realise that “those who have chosen to be our enemies” are not like the homely CCC-terrorists of old, who spread flyers with “ attention –voiture piégée’” around the car they booby-trapped. Today, “those who have chosen to be our enemies” put nails in their bombs – determined to kill and maim as many as possible.
I entered the supermarket resolutely. The young Securitas guard (at terror level 4, BXls supermarkets now put private guards at their doors) was clearly taken aback by my apparent grim resolve – bravely he stopped me and asked “Could you please open your rucksack? “.
My combativeness deflated, I took off my hood, opened my rucksack and showed him my laundry. The guard was embarrassed (I could almost see him thinking: is this how I’m going to prevent a terror attack, by checking people’s laundry?). And I was embarrassed – suddenly aware of the futility of my thoughts.
But we smiled at each other, this young 'Mediterranean-looking' guard and I, as he waved me through with a polite “merci bien madame , bon après-midi!”