One year ago the heart of liberal Europe in Brussels came under attack in the deadliest act of terrorism that Belgium has experienced in its history.
On the morning of March 22, 2016, terrorists detonated bombs at Zaventem Airport and at Maalbeek Metro Station in the European Quarter of central Brussels. Thirty-two civilians and three suicide bombers were killed in the explosions, and more than 300 people were injured.
Most people still remember where they were when they heard the news; I heard it on the car radio and in shock called home. After the immediate horror and revulsion, there followed several months of changes in behaviour and routine as our family learnt to live with the consequences for our everyday lives and tried to comprehend the motives and actions of the persons responsible.
Brussels is a global village, and almost everybody in the city knows a family linked to the victims and those traumatised by the attacks; like the community of Brussels itself the victims were international, including 14 different nationalities from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
This Wednesday Belgium marks the first anniversary of the bombings with ceremonies to show that Brussels will not be cowed and that the city’s citizens stand defiant in unity against hate and terror.
Services of remembrance will be held at Brussels Airport and the Maalbeek Metro Station where King Philippe and Queen Mathilde will take part together with the rescue services, the transport operators and family members of the victims of the bombings. The King and Queen will then unveil a new memorial at Rondpoint Schuman, the symbolic heart of the European Union.
The Brussels public transport operator STIB will organise a minute of applause starting at 09.11 on Wednesday when all trains, trams and buses in Brussels are scheduled to halt and remember the victims of the attacks. Commuters will be invited to participate in this communal noise “to show that they do not forget but that they unite in solidarity against hate and terror.”
Although the country is safer now; anti-terror laws and counter-terrorism activities have been stepped up, but Belgium is still on a high terror alert in an effort to thwart future attacks. Brussels has troops patrolling outside key city sites assessed to be at risk, and there remains a threat that ISIS fighters fleeing their defeat in Syria to return to Europe could be radicalised to undertake terrorist acts in Belgium and other European destinations in the future.
Belgium has been my home for more than 30 years, and has always impressed me with the tolerant and welcoming attitude towards integration of the diverse elements of society that make up the country’s population. As ordinary citizens it is time now for all of us to stand together. We must push back against attempts by the minority extremists, and the disciples of hate and terrorism to disrupt our lives.
The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote in 1951, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
We must never forget what happened in 2016; the best way to show respect to the victims is for our community to make a huge noise through solidarity and to show a steadfast resolution that we all stand united against this continuing threat to our way of life.