The recent attack in Brussels really bothered me. There are two main reasons. First, because it was another terrorist attack by the so-called Islamic State, targeting innocent people; killing, maiming, and injuring those who had no connection with what might have gone wrong in the Middle East.
Secondly, it always feels like the reporting is a lot more ever-present, and the responses more compassionate, when attacks happen in a Western city, versus any other place in the world. Ankara, Turkey was also recently attacked, but where are the “Ankara, we stand with you” messages on Facebook? They are few and far between, as far as I was able to tell (which is, of course, only a fraction of the Facebook world, but does include members of many countries).
At the same time as I question this lack of response by people living in other western countries, I also understand it. A place that is familiar, similar, that one has a connection to, will always trigger a stronger response in anybody. I experienced this first hand, when my family and I were in Boston for the Boston Marathon in 2013 and only left the area minutes before the attack occurred. I was “lucky” to never be in immediate danger, nor witness any gory details; but it did affect me a lot more than if the same thing had happened in San Francisco while I was back home in Austria (where I’m from).
When an attack happened in Graz, Austria in June 2015 – a psychologically unstable Muslim man, with Bosnian roots and Austrian citizenship, used his car at high speeds in a pedestrian zone to purposely kill and injure as many people as possible – I had just canceled a meeting with a friend because I wasn’t feeling well, or else I would have been right there and I might have been one of his victims. It was a traumatic experience for the city of Graz; but in the media outside of Austria, it was a short side note. If it had happened in the US, it would probably have made the front page in Austrian newspapers.
Being exposed to experiences like these has done two things to me (and I know I am not even a good example, because in both cases, I was never directly involved, nor severely impacted). And yet, it made me realize that no place is truly “safe” anymore. Bad stuff happens anywhere. Knowing that, I was faced with a choice – to keep doing what I do, which includes a lot of international (air) travel and time spent in major cities; or to become trapped and fearful. So far, I have decided to choose the first option, and continue to live my life. But after what happened in Graz, I must admit I look at cars differently, constantly gauging how fast they seem to be driving, where they are, or what their trajectory might be. I can only imagine how the people who have been directly involved in terrorist attacks must feel; I wonder how it has changed them, since they face much bigger challenges in trying to cope. Here in Boston, the marathon will take place again this year, and millions will either attend or take part. They too are continuing to live their lives, even during dangerous times.