The day before last, 22 March 2016, will go down in history as the day that Brussels was injured. Wounded in so many ways. Wounded because of the victims and those who suffered a direct loss. Friends, brothers, lovers; lives gone in vain. Empty places at a dinner table.
But there is much more. There is the fear and anxiety. Somebody told me yesterday that my plan to travel to travel to Brussels next week is courageous. That may sound a bit over the top. But the image of Brussels as unsafe is likely to stick for some time to come.
And then there is the, at least perceived, failure of law enforcement and other authorities in Belgium. The narrative is the attacks should have been prevented. They, the authorities, should have known. The people of Belgium should have been better protected.
But how does one prevent such an attack? How do you know if someone is planning to hurt others and inflict pain and damage? Our open societies are vulnerable. It is hard to know if more could have been done.
In general terms, most thwarted or foiled attacks are prevented because a member of the public reports peculiar behaviour to the authorities. Vigilance works. Based on such signals, intelligence officials and police investigators start, or can continue, their work. This is why many governments turn to the public via mass media to ask for information and assistance. These broadcasts have proved popular. This was believed to be because they provided a sense of activism and involvement; a sense of empowerment.
On Tuesday though the system did not work. Nobody reported extraordinary or suspicious behaviour. Preparation for such attacks involves the recruitment of perpetrators, purchasing of material, scouting security measures, and sometimes 'blank' operations or tryouts. All of that went unnoticed or at least went unreported. And that may be the most disturbing issue.
People in Belgium want to know what information, if any, did the authorities have. Was there a lack of willingness to share information? Or is there no trusted presence of law enforcement or other government representatives in communities? Do people feel no commitment? Or are they not confident enough to speak up?
If communities are, or feel, isolated from mainstream society then the opportunities for representatives of these communities to talk about 'what happens' is limited. And that may very well be the case in Belgium. The high number of foreign fighters from Belgium traveling to Syria has alarmed the government and municipalities. There are individuals at the municipal level in Antwerp, and other cities in Belgium, that invest in community engagement and trust building to ensure a flow of information. But these are long-term investments. It takes time to build trust. It seems clear that not enough has been done in this respect.
Belgium will nurse the wounds from these bombings for quite some time to come. Let´s just hope that the pain will not be translated into a blame game. Solutions should be sought with the right combination of protective measures, community engagement, and bridge building to link all communities in to the mainstream.
Of course Brussels is not the only place where healing and wisdom is required. In the last six months a variety of places around the globe, from Indonesia to Tunisia and Nigeria to Istanbul have been hit and wounded. It unites us in a certain sense. There are shared concerns.
The call from Islamic State for violent action resonates with young people from many different countries and backgrounds. Another common factor are bystanders that don't report suspicious behaviour.
Are we witnessing a crisis of trust between 'the people' and 'the authorities' globally? Is this alienation of the masses from a globalised environment in which they see no role for themselves? Is this a global governance crisis? Is this about 'modernity' that serves the happy few, but not the majority of citizens?
President Hollande calls this a war. That is all very well. But I wonder what the war is all about. I believe that unless we have the answer to that question the wounds of Brussels will never be totally healed.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Max Mayorov.