Thursday, 24 March 2016

Je Suis Brusseleir?

This week, Europe was rocked once again by the news of a terrorist attack. Only months after the senseless loss of life which occurred in Paris, this time Brussels was the target. My Facebook newsfeed is filled with friends and acquaintances adding a Belgian flag to their profile pictures in a show of solidarity. There are photos from cities around the world lighting up major attractions in black, yellow and red. "We stand with you, people of Brussels!", people are keen to proclaim, in much the same way that the Tricolore was plastered over the much of the internet and the developed world back in November and all of social media stood in unity and defiantly stated "Nous sommes Charlie" after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January of last year.

On the one hand, I get it, I really do. These attacks have lead to suffering and loss of life in the alleged pursuit of an ideology I will never understand. Of course people want to show unity, sympathy, solidarity. We want to shout, loud and clear to any terrorists who may be passing, that we will not allow these attacks to alter our way of life. To cancel mass events and stop drawing potentially offensive cartoons is, we assume, precisely what they want - and so we will not let them win. We will carry on our daily life. The Londoners will get the tube. The Parisians will go to gigs. The Brusseleir will make their way to work, to school, to the shops in their usual way.

The thing is though, that I start to feel uncomfortable when I think of the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who we don't automatically show solidarity for. If I don't stick a Belgian flag overlay on my Facebook profile, there are some who may assume (incorrectly) that I don't care about the recent devastation in Brussels. But if I do, I worry that I am suggesting European life (or perhaps just life in the "Western" world) is somehow more valuable that that elsewhere.

If you're interested, you can easily find a list of terrorist incidents which have happened just this year - and there are a lot of them. Perhaps we don't really pay attention to attacks in Somalia or Iraq because we have grown accustomed to the violence which is sadly ongoing in those nations, but war or no war, the loss of life is still tragic. Maybe the events in Turkey or Libya simply haven't been on our radar because those places seem too far away from the world we know, but they still resulted in the deaths of innocent people.

Don't get me wrong, I stand with the people of Brussels, as I did with the people of Paris and London and Belfast before them. But whilst "je suis Charlie", because any of us face the risk that one day we could head to our workplace and not return, I am also the 3 year old girl killed in and Iraqi chemical attack. I'm a Nigerian mother blown up at the market. I'm the Somalian blown up whilst enjoying a meal in a restaurant. I'm all of these people, and thousands of of others too.

The sad fact is that I cannot keep up with all of these attacks. They are happening almost daily, with even more violence which is not classed as terrorism continuing to ruin the lives of many people. And for that reason, I cannot bring myself to stick a Belgian flag over my profile pictures, although I do not judge those who do. I stand with the people of Brussels, but more than that, I stand with the people of the world. It is simply a happy accident of birth and a chance arrangement of schedules that mean I have not been directly affected by any of these terrible events. As my sadly-missed Grandma would have said, "there, but by the grace of God, go I". So yes, I am Charlie and Paris and Brussels, and I am Baghdad and Tel Aviv too. But mostly I am a human, and I stand by all of my fellow humans through whatever atrocity we face. I believe that only in truly realising that we are all people with hopes, dreams and ambitions which are not defined by creed, colour or national boundary will there ever be peace.


"Imagine all the people, living life in peace..."