This morning, terrorists set off three explosions in Brussels. Two went off in the city’s metro airport and one at the nearby Maelbeek subway station. Just four months ago, on November 13, Paris was victimized by terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 130 civilians. As of this writing the death toll in the Brussels attack is at least 31, with over 80 injuries, but the number may rise. Like the Paris attacks, the Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility.
I remember the Paris attacks very well myself. I was studying abroad in Europe, spending that weekend with a friend in Seville, in the south of Spain. Because I was an American student traveling in Spain, I rarely had cell service or wireless on my phone, meaning that often I had no access to any means of communication.I hadn’t given this any thought to until the Paris attacks.
By the time I arrived back in my hotel on the night of the 13th, my phone more or less blew up with notifications. The news stories and messages were coming in so quickly it was hard to make sense of it. When I could eventually pick up on what was happening, over 100 people had already died in Paris. Most of the messages, unsurprisingly, were from friends and family wanting to know where I was. Because it’s so easy to travel around Europe, I could have easily been traveling through or to Paris. In fact less than a month before I had gone to Paris for the weekend, and it was one of the most breathtaking cities I’ve ever had the pleasure to be in. Scarily enough, one of the bombs was set off that night just a block from the AirBnb my friends and I had rented for the long weekend.
America is lucky for so many reasons, maybe especially because of its isolation. We are so rarely the victim of foreign terrorist attacks, and since our founding we have only had one major war fought on U.S. soil. Europe is small, very small, and it’s something I didn’t realize until I was over there. I knew that the small town I lived in was far away from Paris, but it didn’t really feel like it. For the first time ever I had been to a place where a major terrorist attack had happened, I had walked those streets just weeks before, not even guessing what was going to happen to the people of that city.
European terrorists attacks aren’t isolated events. Every european country felt the effect of Paris. Just two days after the Paris attacks I went with friends to visit the Cathedral in Cordoba, one of the most famous in Spain, and it was crawling with soldiers carrying some of the biggest guns I had ever seen. Later when I asked a friend if that was normal she told me no, it was because of what happened in Paris. For the rest of my time there, everything felt slightly uneasy. I was living in a city with Spain’s largest tourists attraction, an old Muslim palace called the Alhambra. Even though I felt safe in Granada, I was suddenly aware of what could happen.
On my way home from Europe I had a flight from JFK to New York back to Detroit. On the flight I sat next to a girl who had been studying abroad in Paris last semester like I had been studying in Spain. Obviously one of the first things I had asked her was about that attacks. She replied that she had been lucky and had gone to London that weekend to visit family, but she had friends who were out the night of the attacks at some of the cafes that were hit. She said some students even went home after the attacks, even though it was halfway through the semester.
Right now in Europe, many people are living in fear. Within four months IS has managed to kill over 160 innocent people, and the world should be outraged. This morning during his address to the nation about U.S.-Cuba relations, President Obama also addressed the Brussels attacks.
“This is yet another reminder that the world must unite,” said President Obama. “We must be together regardless of nationality or race or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.”
This isn’t an issue of Christianity vs. Islam. It’s an issue of peace and freedom against the people who try and take it from us. I have seen first-hand the aftermath of terrorism in Europe. Everyone in this country still feels aftershocks from 9/11. No one is isolated when it comes to terror attacks. This is a moment that should bring all countries and all nationalities together to stand up against the attackers for what is right. As great people prove over and over again, peace and love can be stronger than all of the hate in the world. My heart aches for Brussels and still aches for Paris. May the souls of the victims all find peace.
Photo courtesy of Le Monde