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Saturday
Apr022016

Living under military occupation

Four months ago, Paris was hit. Two weeks ago, we were hit in Brussels. It was a senseless tragedy, violence destroying lives. Does that make anything and everything a government does in the name of security allowable?

In most countries, being the target of an attack brings out the patriotism, with the city targetted becoming a symbol of the country. In Belgium, just an association with Paris attacks was enough to have leading politicans come out against Brussels, slandering the city every which way. It is hard to blame the international media for buying up gullible stories of Brussels being jihad-central, when those same stories are peddled for political purposes by certain Belgian politicians. Still, it is tough to bear the self-satisfied smugness of American media claiming that Europe is much worse than America in integrating Muslims. Clearly they are clueless about Muslims in Belgium, and just as clearly they are drinking the kool-aid of patriotism when they ignore the racial, religious and social fragmentation of America (especially when the US primaries brings it up for such clear display). 

So we had our idiotic lock-down after the Paris attacks. And it turns out, putting military boys with big guns on every street corner does not actually stop explosions. Huh. Maybe the Belgian security apparatus would have been better served by concentrating on intelligence rather than repressive symbolism. You know, the opposite of capturing Salah Ab Salah Abdeslam, issuing a press release that he is going to help the police, and then taking a long weekend rather than actually asking him about any plans for an attack. 

Now what?

I want my city to heal. In the short-term, we need to make a conscious effort to bring normality back to our lives. We need to walk through the city, have a beer, eat chocolate at a cafe, smile at strangers. In the long-term, we need to fix the economic situation of immigrants, and we need to tear down the barriers that hinder integration. We need to make sure immigrants can buy houses and get jobs, becoming invested in the community. We need to hire immigrants for our police forces and put them in parliament and on TV as role-models. We need to make sure that children going to the poorest schools have the brightest opportunities. Yes, we are far ahead of America and even much of Europe on most of these fronts, but there is hard work to be done. We need to start today.

That is my vision for the future. What about the vision of the Belgian politicians who toy with Brussels for political gain? They advocate the opposite. In the short-term, they want Brussels to cower in fear, to be... terrorised. The arteries of the city, the metro, is either erratic or shut-down (with mysterious inconviences that seem to actually decrease safety, such as shutting down almost all the exits). We are told to not come out in public. In fact we were actually admonished for coming out to demonstrate for peace and healing of our city, to which I, for one, said "tough luck":

As for the long-term... well, there is no long-term plan. One suspects that the planning ends at the next election (although how they plan to campaign mystifies me: "vote for N-VA/MR, we took away civil liberties, destroyed tourism and didn't keep you safe!"). There is good work being done at the local level, but at the Federal level, there is no interest in helping Brussels. No, check-that, there is an actual interest in holding Brussels up as a threat or a warning, in painting Brussels as a hell-hole to gain votes in the rest of the country.

Today the American embassy sent our a warning to all American citizens living in Belgium:

The U.S. Embassy strongly urges U.S. citizens to continue to maintain a heightened sense of awareness, and to continue to avoid large crowds or areas that might attract a substantial gathering of people. 

Additionally, several other simple security processes can also help mitigate risk as you go about your day.

When possible, vary your route to work or school or to shopping. Rather than taking the same route each day, you should have two or three deviations you can randomly choose from. The entire route need not be different, but even minor deviations can be beneficial. Also, leave from work or school at different times.

Searching your automobile each morning, especially if you park outside, is also an important safety step. Start with a 360 degree sweep, looking around and under the vehicle. Be alert for anything suspicious, such as wire, tape or string. Be systematic -- start and finish your search at a predetermined point. Look for any out-of-place packages or items in, on, attached or under the vehicle, and/or tool marks on the vehicle or other indications of forced entry.

I mean, come on! Brussels is not Baghdad. It is a thriving, cosmopolitan and international European capital, which just happened to get hit by a couple of criminals. The life you advocate is... not living. I can deal with a remote possibility of a freak death. Plane crashes, factory explosions, terrorist attacks - they happen. Not often, but they happen. It doesn't keep me awake at night, and I'm not going to be unhappy today about what probably won't happen tomorrow. What I can't deal with is the daily repression we are currently dealing with. For four months Brussels has been under military occupation. I hate seeing camouflaged boys with machine guns on every corner. I hate being worried that some freaked-out over-trained kid will panic when they see someone running for a train, and respond with a shower of bullets. I moved out of America because I don't want to be surrounded by guns. I don't want Hayden to grow up thinking it is normal to see machine guns and tanks outside our house. Knowing that their presence is the equivalent of Trump protesting he has large hands just makes it all worse. 

I love Brussels and I love Belgium. I want to be part of the movement to make our city better than it ever has been. But I can't live under military occupation indefinitely. 

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