I admit to being scared at the moment. This is unusual for me; generally my anxiety levels are low and I face the world with the attitude that I’m not going to worry about the things I cannot change. Unfortunately it is becoming very hard to do that.
The attacks in Brussels this week disturbed me very much. I have been lucky with the jobs I have had in that some of them have given me the opportunity to travel to, and work in, foreign cities. I am pleased to have a working knowledge of Copenhagen, Berlin, Riga, Prague, Paris and Brussels (and Milton Keynes). So, Brussels is one of the cities I regard as a home from home.
My current employer has their HQ in Brussels and so I have to go there every now and again. On my first visit the Maelbeek metro station was the one closest to my hotel so I came to know it well. The Metro system in Brussels isn’t pretty, and last time I was there many of the stations were being refurbished. The entrance to Maelbeek from Rue de la Loi is a few flights of dark concrete steps, past a closed-down premises that could have been a shop or nightclub. It was hard to tell. It is horrible to think that people died down there. The last time I was at the airport the departure hall was very crowded indeed as it was at the start of the school holidays. Much more crowded than you are likely to see at a Heathrow terminal, or at Gardemoen in Oslo. I imagine many more would have died had it been equally crowded on the 23rd March 2016.
There are always things to cling onto. The terror attacks in Oslo took place on 22nd July 2011 in the afternoon. In Norway most people take a long holiday in July and so offices and public transport are much quieter during that month. Had the attack happened in September then many more would have died in the government quarter. I know that many people took an Easter break in Belgium last week so I can only hope that the metro trains and stations were emptier than usual.
Oslo still bears the scars of the July 22nd attack, almost five years later. It took a long time to decide which buildings would stay and which would be demolished. These buildings, these streets, once homes to the corridors of power in Oslo remain, windows replaced by wooden sheets, closed down. Those who once worked in the Government Quarter are well settled into new premises and many who were there on that terrible afternoon cannot stand the thought of ever returning. But Oslo has the luxury of space; it was not the infrastructure of the city that was attacked – it was the Norwegian people and the symbols of democracy. I’m often in that area, a few minutes’ walk from my office and it distresses me that the damage done by Anders Bering Breivik remains. He would probably be delighted if he knew that, although the Norwegian Flag flies high in Akersgata, that street and others around it still bear the wounds he left there so carelessly, as if we are unable to heal them.
I’m not someone who can kill, or hurt, others without feeling a ton of guilt. I’ve been vegetarian since I was 14 years old, will work quite hard to evict insects painlessly from the house and if I do have to finish off a bird or a mouse one of the cats has caught it upsets me a lot. The only person I can ever really hurt is me (I imagine, no-one else seems bothered by my shenanigans as far as I can tell). So I cannot understand and have no insight into the minds of people who will kill and maim for a cause. The only way to resolve difference and disagreements and restore peace is to talk to people, that I do know for sure.
Let us hope that our Governments open channels of communication and show mercy to those who count themselves as members of IS. All of the advantages are held by the Western powers, after all.