We stand in solidarity with the victims of the brutal attack in Brussels and with all citizens who had to stay locked inside the buildings, shocked and afraid for their life. This time, Europe was hurt in the heart for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility. The bombings in Ankara, Paris, Istanbul and now Brussels all happened in less than a year. Should we travel to Brussels after this? Can we visit Paris and stay safe? I recently bought a plane ticket with a layover in Istanbul and most of my friends reacted in a similar way: “It’s dangerous. Be careful!”
I am shocked and devasted about what happened in Brussels. I worry about my friends who are there now. But should we stop living our lives in the way we’re used to because we fear terrorism? Should we cancel travel plans as the world is turning into a more and more dangerous place? Terrorists want us to be afraid, to hate, to turn Christians against Muslims and Muslims against Christians. Extremists hit multicultural cities and want us to wonder which one will be next. They want these cities to be punished for their open-mindedness. If we let fear and xenophobia get to our hearts and control our thoughts, actions, and daily life, then terrorists will win. If we let our countries be turned into police states, limiting our civil rights, then terrorists will win.
We have to react with more democracy, more freedom, more humanity. We need adequate security too but security measures should not go against our core human rights, Liberte, egalite, fraternite (freedom, equality, fraternity).
In violent times like these, we should stand for our rights to express our thoughts and political opinions without fear, to move freely and to respect and be respected when we interact with different cultures. I refuse to stop traveling because of fear of extremism. Last November, I was in France when the bombings in Paris happened. I could have left immediately when the French border re-opened. A day after the attacks, the streets of Lyon were almost empty and filled with heavy energy. Instead of making me feel more secure, policemen with rifles scared me. My relatives and friends kept texting me to change my plans and come home. And yet this was my first time in France. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to enjoy my time in the country, even when it was affected by cruelty. In that situation, I was just one helpless being lighting a candle and praying for the souls of the dead. But I chose to give my support for France by enjoying its culture and tasting wine, cheese, chocolates, and Burgundy snails. By touring the old town and taking pictures of it I wanted to show my friends and followers how amazing this country is. And I promised myself to come back and visit Paris the next time.
Immediately after a terrorist assault, flights are canceled, trains and buses stop operating, and hotels empty as the governments issue a “do not visit” warning. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, it takes tourism 13 months to recover from a terrorist attack. This is a shorter period, compared to the recovery from environmental disasters (24 months) or policial unrest (27 months). Of course, our safety must have the highest priority. Why should we care about tourism if our lives are endangered? It is better to be safe than to travel and risk dying or getting injured. This is what we are led to believe.
Brussels is a beautiful city with a rich heritage and the most amazing and diverse beer in the world. I loved the many stories about Mannekin Pis, a bronze sculpture of a naked little peeing boy. The most famous legend tells how in the 14th century, a two-year-old Duke won the battle against the troops of the Berthouts by urinating on them. Another tale paints a picture of a boy who saved the town from bombing by peeing on the fuse. Now, there is a schedule to change the costumes of the statue. It has been dressed as a mayor of Brussels, a Judo fighter, Saint Nicolas, an astronaut, Uncle Sam, a firefighter, a national of different countries… I even heard the story of how it has once peed beer, free beer for all.
We must not be afraid to visit Brussels. To go see the European Parliament and learn about its history and how it functions. To try “pluxing” at Place Luxembourg on Thursday evening. To enjoy that glass of whatever sort of beer we pick. To laugh at Mannekin Pis. To immerse into the city’s multiculturalism. We can’t continue business as usual but we must not stop loving and enjoying the world either.
“The science of war leads one to dictatorship, pure and simple. The science of non-violence alone can lead one to pure democracy. The states that are today nominally democratic have either to become frankly totalitarian or, if they are to become truly democratic, they must become courageously non-violent. Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by fear of punishment and the other by arts of love. Power based on love is thousand times more effective and permanent than power derived from fear of punishment.” – Mahatma Gandhi.