By Ana Maria Sarmento
The news shocked the world but, sadly, it was not entirely a surprise for those who live in Brussels. It was shortly after 8h00 in the morning of 22nd of March 2016 when broadcasters reported a blast in Brussels international airport, Zaventem. At first, caution was taken not to allege this incident as a deliberated attack. After all, just four months before Paris was brutally hit by terror attacks and even if the threat was real for Brussels, hopes dispelled this thought at first. Yet, when the second explosion in Zaventem airport was announced, there was no more room for doubts. The media started to report extensively these incidents as another act of terror in the European soil. Every second, new pictures from the Belgium airport were posted on the internet. More news were incessantly updated in the media, whether it was a radio station or a TV channel. At 9h11 another blast took place. This time in Maalbeek metro station, right at the European headquarters. Fear was widespread by then.
How many others bombs would explode in Brussels? Eventually a misinformed news broadcast a possible fourth blast in Schuman metro station. Fortunately for so many, this one did not occur as it was the reflect of fear raising among people. This was probably the moment when EU citizens felt the most vulnerable, as they realised - yet again - that anytime and anywhere in Europe, random citizens can be a target of a terror attack.
Brussels attacks claimed 35 lives (including the 3 suicide bombers) and made more than 300 wounded.
One month on, routine has been slowly reinstated in Brussels, yet the wounds have not faded. Not only to those who directly suffered from this atrocity, but also to every resident in Europe. The aftermath of a terror attack goes beyond the number of people deceased and wounded and their love ones. It affects every person who witnessed the horror in the city where they live. It is a sense of liberty and security taken for granted in the EU that is brutally stolen. All over Europe, EU citizens have frequently declared that fear won’t change their daily lives. But, in fact, it already has. The routine of the city that welcomes 1,2 million people from all over the world has almost returned to normal by now. But people still feel a looming threat.
Indeed, this is the only aim of a terror attack. An unexpected, random and irrational violent action, which only purpose is to feed fear and despair among people. And so it did it. For the victims and their families, for which our prayers and thoughts go to, life won’t be the same. Yet, for those fortunate to be speared in this sad day for Belgium, little by little, life goes on with caution and distrust.
But it will not be enough to fight terror if Europe and its citizens are not actively committed to do it.
This fight has been appointed by so many as a military one. As if only a "witch hunt" from the police, the army and secret services to destroy these terror cells would be enough to maintain Europe as a "safe ground" as we used to believe before. Others may even say that it is a political matter only. To set in motion urgent measures was demanded immediately by citizens to EU leaders. And they were right! What should have in fact be done months ago. Even if citizens have taken for granted the right of privacy, difficult times request strong measures. The list was endless: stronger cooperation among states, a more efficient intelligence information sharing, a re-evaluation of the Schengen agreement, closing boarders to refugees... In short, citizens ask for steady security policies from the EU. But steady policies does not mean inhuman, though. The EU values, and specially the human values, which is a pillar of today’s Europe, must not be forgotten. The increase of extreme far right groups is a real fear, but it should not influence the future policies taken in the EU or by its member states. With or without the threat of these movements, Europe must keep doing the right thing, and stick to its core values. It is not a foreign affair issue where a EU fortress should be built in order to prevent desperate man, women and children reaching Europe while running from the horrors of others countries. It is in fact a EU home affairs struggle. The general profile of the actors of these attacks suggest that they were born and raised in EU member states, which brings up another question. How was this monstrosity carried out by a second or third generation of EU citizens who do not feeling European citizen? Where have European countries failed in integrating Muslims communities? And why, did these communities fail to integrated in European countries after two, three and even four generation?
These arguments seems to simplify a very much complex issue that Europe has had brewing for years and is now emerging dramatically. A military intervention is needed and political measures can’t be postponed. But this is only a quick fix EU strategy to fight terrorism. Rather, Europe needs to embrace cultural changes to fight terror, as well. From debating the lack of integration among the 28 different member states, we are now discussing how to create more integration of Europe’s diverse communities. Integration is a two way process, though, and both sides must take action. Responsibilities have not been taken in, which leads to a reality where different communities live completely apart from each other in the same city. Some people may point the finger at Brussels, but this same issue exists in other cities among the EU member states. A more united EU is needed more than ever before. Without an ever closer integration the European Union will have a hard time to fight terror in its soil. This fight has only now started and it does request many changes not only at the political level, but especially at a community and individual levels. And taking responsibility as a EU citizen on working together for a better EU integration is becoming crucial.