Thoughts on Brussels

Brussels Zaventem Airport
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This Opinion piece published in the St. Cloud Times is so appropriate and well said that it is being published verbatim.

Commit an act of defiance: Travel

“How do you defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized.” ― Salman Rushdie

I woke up Tuesday morning, checked my news alerts and …

No. Not again. Please, just no.

Brussels was on fire. The airport where I’d awaited a flight home just two years ago after days of beauty, art, beer and chocolate — the beautiful airport with glass concourses shaped like an airplane wing that made me want to become an architect when I grow up — had become a killing zone.

The subway stop where millions of people a year step into the sunshine to poke around the buildings of the European Union — the physical embodiment of the continent’s commitment to unity — was cluttered with bodies.

No. Not again. Not another pretty damned successful attempt to scare people into taking cover, closing ranks, staying locked behind the safe doors of home.

Please, just no.

****

Make no mistake: Travel is a political act. At least, it can be.

Travelers don’t need to put “do good” on their itinerary to commit a political act. It’s not necessary — nice, but not necessary — to build a school, help spay a street dog or pack medical supplies to donate while on vacation.

Every time someone crosses a border to see what’s beyond the next horizon, to find out how the people live there or forge a business deal, the world changes a tiny bit.

The traveler’s worldview expands a little or a lot. Their tolerance for difference expands. A new realization that there are many ways to serve dinner, operate a toilet, number hotel floors, pay for goods and name streets translates into more permeable ideas about how many legitimate ways there may be to govern a nation, prioritize work and family life, value the past or the future or worship a deity.

The traveler may not even notice the change, but it’s there.

Likewise, the people being visited are also changed. They bump up against people from dozens of nationalities and strike up conversations about politics, families, hobbies and ideas. They learn that women in some places need not have kids. They learn that not all Americans are like Barack Obama or George Bush and not all Russians are homophobic. They discover that some Germans are Muslim, some Australians are quiet, some British people are bad tippers and some Norwegians like to sing a lot when they get together.

They may not notice the change, but it’s there.

Travel’s innate ability to foster empathy and the free flow of ideas works against the aims of those who love hate.

****

Terrorists aren’t targeting travelers, although it can certainly seem so. They strike international cities, and they often target transportation hubs and heavily visited sites. They take aim at those places because it’s the means to their end: to strike fear in as large an audience as they can get. They want to ensure that as many people as possible, all over the world, think “this could happen to me.” The more colors of passports on the bodies and the more well-known the site, the wider the coverage of their gesture of death.

That’s the fact of the matter. That’s their goal.

This is why millions of travelers daily traverse concourses, check-in counters, train stations and landmark neighborhoods where carnage has happened. Since 1985, airports in Rome, Moscow, Vienna, Athens, Seoul, Barcelona, Brussels and Los Angeles have seen politically motivated shootings. Since 1995, trains and stations in Tokyo, Paris, Manila, Madrid, London, Moscow, Brussels and various sites in India, Sri Lanka and Russia have been attacked. Public spaces worldwide, from Oklahoma City to New York to Paris’s Left Bank to Casablanca to Istanbul’s Sultanahmet/Blue Mosque district have been bloodied by extremists.

Most of those millions of travelers are unaware that the places they walk through peacefully were once Brussels on Tuesday. Those who are aware may ponder the history for a moment, then brush it away.

That’s winning. Going on — just going — is how to fight back.

The litany of attacks is all designed to be too much.

We can’t let it be.

No. Please, just no.

lisa schwarz

 

 

 


Lisa Schwarz
, lschwarz@stcloudtimes.com

red-line-smaller-hi

One more thought: this conflict is between cultures. At a distance, both sides harbor ill will. Some of that anger derives from religious beliefs which some assert are aberrations of the faith. It is clear that both sides, to arguable degrees, suffer from prejudice. In its simplest terms, that term means one person, who does not know the other, tends to “prejudge” his/her character, motivations, thoughts, views and all of the elements that define humanity. In the US the most effective method of reducing discrimination, in the long term, is INTEGRATION. Spending time with people of different views diminishes the pre-existing negative views and creates a better basis for understanding.

Travel is one way of making the world smaller, of bring countries and cultures closer together. It may yet be risky to travel to part of the Middle East, but international travel creates chances to intermingle, to get to know people outside of your personal sphere. Travel adds to understanding, breaks down the barriers and hopefully diminishes prejudices on both sides.

Travel is not just an act of defiance, but may actually be a move towards understanding.

 

Thanks, Ms. Schwarz for your inspiring thoughts!

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