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October 2017
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Lockdown in Brussels: Let the Terror Weekend Begin

630x355“It didn’t seem real to me until I saw one just next to me”, that is what Alice, a 20 years old student, felt when she entered Grand Central Station in Brussels on Monday morning and saw a soldier with a weapon just a couple of metres away from her.


21th of November, Saturday morning, only eight days after the Paris attacks, that is the moment when the inhabitants of Brussels woke up with the news that the alert level in Brussels was of 4, the highest level possible. That weekend is now well known as the “Terror Weekend of Brussels”. Brussels, the capital of the European Union, famous for its waffles, that welcomes daily thousands of tourists coming from all over the world to visit the authentic Grand Place and the funny Manneken Pis while drinking a Belgian beer and eating some freshly made fries. Imagine this hectic city being in a complete lock down for several days. No metros, empty streets, closed museums, only soldiers with deadly weapons and some courageous passer-by’s are on the streets. Everybody, including myself, is at home sipping hot tea under a blanket while anxiously watching some breaking news reports about the situation in our beautiful capital that we call home. How did this happen? Was all this fuss really necessary? Are all these soldiers on the streets still useful? I don’t think so.


Last Wednesday I decided to take a walk in the centre of this not-so-ghostly-Brussels-anymore to observe the situation and ask some people around about their opinions. While I was strolling through the Monts des Arts I came across Arthur, a 23 years old law student, and asked him about his thoughts on this whole situation. In full honesty he disclosed to me that he was actually glad about the situation as his classes were cancelled and he could enjoy some free days. However, after a while we started deepening our conservation on this nice little square and I started seeing the more critical side of this cultivated law student. Arthur argued that “the best response to these terrorists is to get our lives back with our boring routines and not let these terrorists get to us”. He admitted that the lockdown weekend was most probably necessary as the Paris attacks were elaborated in Brussels, but now it has been enough and everything should go back to normal. I share the same revolting, yet thoughtful, opinion as Arthur. I don’t believe that all these armed soldiers and tanks on the streets are still necessary nowadays. The minister of defence, Steven Vandeput, announced that the deployment of soldiers on the streets will cost approximately 18 millions euros. This amount is excruciatingly big as this budget could be invested somewhere else, creation of jobs or refugee centres perhaps, and it only gives the terrorists the satisfaction that they created a climate of fear, which they did not.


I understood when people were scared during the terror weekend and to be honest I was also a little bit anxious. The presence of soldiers and the police was completely justified as it was believed that Salah Abdelsam, the most wanted man in Europe, was still in Brussels and that maybe an attack on Brussels was being planned during that weekend. On Sunday the police arrested 16 people in multiple areas of Brussels, so not only in the notorious Molenbeek. But, guess what? 15 out of the 16 people arrested were released. During these arrests the police asked the media and the inhabitants of Brussels to publish no information about the activities of the police so that they could work in optimal conditions. It is a very good initiative as there were no complications except for one injured person. I understand that precaution during this lockdown was necessary, especially since we recently were informed about the existence of a suspicious text message the police intercepted Sunday 22nd of December. However, when 15 out of the 16 people get released it feels like that operation was a complete joke. In my opinion the police and law enforcement lost some time, money, and credibility.


But, then again, I also understand the fact that the police needs to be careful and take maximum security actions. While wandering on the Anspach Avenue and observing three little children, two boys and a girl, playing innocently and laughing joyfully, I guess there is still hope, I start a conversation with Henri, a 40 years old man. This man seems to share my personal thoughts as he told me “if they don’t do anything they will be criticized, if they do something they will also be criticized. The police is already being criticized for every action they do or do not take so they might as well be careful and avoid innocent deaths”. I totally share his point of view in the sense that the security of the people is the most important thing. However, excessive security measures are never good. We are the 8th of December, 25 days after the Paris attacks, and there are still soldiers in the streets of Brussels. How long will they stay? We cannot live in a climate of fear forever. Actually, we should not live in a climate of fear anytime, as this will give the terrorists what they want. These terrorists don’t deserve to feel victorious for anything, instead they should feel weak as they attacked innocent, off-guard, and unarmed citizens.


At last, this is a message to all of you who are still reading my piece; go out and live. Do not just exist, but instead live your life as you want to live it. Do not let anybody or anything stop you. Do not let fear get into your head instead fight it. I do not promise you that you will live a life without any accidents or tragedies, but take these bad moments and use them to give you the courage to fight back and live the life you want. In the end, we are all going to die one day. On that day, on that moment, your life will flash before your eyes, so make sure it is worth watching.


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