Waking up on a spring morning to the news of a bomb in Brussels airport was a deeply unnerving experience. As I scanned up and down Twitter for more information I experienced that now familiar feeling of dread, sensing that this would not be the only attack on Brussels that day. Ever since 9/11, terror attacks seem to be multiple events and sure enough another bomb on the metro sent the toll on human life upwards. Belgium’s bloody and dark day had arrived.
All day the news media was full of eye witness reports and the opinions of security experts. The message is always the same; it’s almost impossible to prevent these kind of terror attacks on civilian populations. I wonder if I should hold off on booking a foreign holiday for the family. I know that my reaction is somewhat irrational and of course plays right into the hands of these bloody-minded monsters but I, like most other people I think, am deeply disturbed by how frightening and dangerous a place our world can become in the blink of an eye. And when we feel threatened our first reaction is to retreat to where we feel safest, our homes.
As I contemplated not travelling for a while, the Belgian government was issuing that very same advice to the citizens of Brussels. The message was to stay home, stay indoors, stay safe.
Then Caitlin Moran tweeted “always good, on days like this, to remind everyone that the guys blowing up Brussels are THE PEOPLE THE REFUGEES ARE RUNNING AWAY FROM”. Sometimes a simple 140 characters can be very profound. In suburban Dublin my instinct is to hug my children, postpone travel plans and stay safely at home. In Belgium the population are being urged to do precisely the same. Yet on the other side of Europe there are families who have done exactly the opposite and who are now stuck in appalling conditions on the border between Greece and Macedonia.
These families have walked away from all that was familiar and all that should have been safe. They have left their homes to make perilous journeys into the unknown in search of shelter. These are families that up until a few years ago were just like mine; their kid going to school, the parents making dinners, doing chores, feeding the dog, watching TV, living their lives just like we do in Belgium and in Ireland. Suddenly in the cold light of the callous terror in Brussels I have some insight into just how terrifying it must have been in Syria to have forced families to take the action and the risks they did and still do.
If any country in Europe should be able to identify with their plight, then surely it is the Irish. The neutral Irish, the peacekeeping Irish, the Irish who still donate more to charity than any of our European neighbours, the Irish who for centuries were refugees arriving on foreign shores. How can we not understand how horrific Syria must be that these families choose to leave all that is precious to them? And yet there seems to be an empathy gap between us here in Ireland and our Syrian brothers and sisters who are currently camped in the mud and squalor by a fence in Greece.
As I sit and wonder about all this I am acutely aware that we currently have no Government in this country. We have 157 elected representatives (and one on a free pass) but we have yet to see any leadership come forward with the political will and the sense of responsibility to get to work on forming a government to begin to tackle some of the urgent problems facing us in Ireland.
In the meantime, I thank God that so far Ireland has been spared this kind of terrorist attack because just like in Paris, Madrid, London and New York we cannot prevent such horror but unlike all those cities we would be even less able to deal with the consequences of such wide scale death and injury with a health service that can’t even cope with day to day emergencies.
The world needs a voice of reason and compassion to counter the evil of organisations like ISIS. Ireland in my view is perfectly positioned to be just that voice. To be the voice of the poor, the dispossessed and those in desperate need of aid. But most of all to be the voice of peace. However, our current homeless crisis (which includes providing homes for the travelling community) are proof that we cannot practice such humanity at home. So how would be possibly be a beacon of light to counter the dark evil of organisations who are intent on killing and maiming wherever they so choose.