Seeing the pictures of Zaventem airport in Brussels in chaos was surreal because I vividly recall driving to the airport a few weeks ago, conversing in French with my Rwandan cab driver, with one eye on the armed guards thinking two things: would their presence be a deterrent or just make someone more determined to launch an attack?
The sight of armed guards patrolling with their guns coupled with their bulky tanks, parked outside embassies, key buildings, and other less obvious locations has become ubiquitous in Brussels. And when you see them you feel intimidated, but does their presence give people a false sense of security?
The audacity of this most recent attack is what shocks. Perhaps there was a moment of jubilation that the main architect of the Paris attacks, Salam Abdeslam, had finally been apprehended? Just when the Belgians breathed a sigh of relief as Abdeslam was caught as he 'planned his next Brussels attack' - was this the strike he had conceived? Or were these bombings reprisals - a knee jerk response to his arrest?
When I heard that the second bomb occurred at Maelbeek metro station, Rue de la Loi, it made me shudder. The number of times I have cycled down that road I have lost count. Terrorism has been brought onto our doorstep; we are getting a taste of what it is like to live in perpetual fear.
Brussels is shutting down, the security alert has been raised to level 4, chaos and shock prevails - that's what the terrorists want.
There is no safe place it seems, and when I was watching the shaky footage taken on mobile phones I was trembling because I recognised every detail of the airport, it made me realise, 'I could so easily have been there.' So far 34 dead and rising numbers of casualties - what a waste of life? There will plausibly be more attacks, because that is the nature of this particular beast called terrorism. It's not about Syria or ISIS anymore, this is about faction terrorist cells whose main objective is to instigate as much mayhem through random bomb attacks in key cities like Paris, Brussels, London and beyond. This could potentially go on for years. It's a conflict that is not easily resolved, this is an enemy that cannot simply be arrested, incarcerated and stopped because there will always be a steady stream of disillusioned, disaffected young men ready to pick up a gun or detonate a bomb.
When I was in Brussels I took a cab, there were two men in it, they were Belgian, spoke French and from Morocco. You meet a lot of them driving cabs around Brussels. They were friendly and vivacious. They kept on asking, 'Where are you from?' to which I replied, 'Je suis une extraterrestre, j'habite sur la lune' which translated means 'I am an alien, I live on the moon.' Although we all laughed my sense of dislocation resonated and they opened up saying how they didn't feel integrated in Belgian society. Geographical and economic ghettoization is rife consolidating a 'them and us' mentality, only exacerbated by the surge in radicalization.
The recent immigration crisis has also fuelled the mutual sense of suspicion and hostility between various groups and these tensions will only intensify. Because what happens after this? Brussels, London and Paris step up security, citizens feel under siege, but for how long can they sustain it? For some of these radicalized nationals it's not even about politics anymore - it's a form of sport, a way to feel important, to matter, to achieve instant fame and martyrdom - people will take risks to reach such dizzy heights of glory.
We also cannot just perceive this as a Brussels, Paris or London problem - we need to look at this attack in the context of what is going on globally.
Currently in Asia, this region is cocooned from the crises in Europe and the Middle East - but is it?
Today I met a woman called Leila, her mother is Scottish and her father is from Yemen. We got talking and I mentioned the bombings in Brussels and yet she seemed unmoved, I was a little taken aback until she told me how she had fled from Yemen 8 months ago and the killing just didn't stop. 'They kill and kill and kill,' she said raising her eyes up to the sky. Her once beautiful country was now ripped to shreds by bombs. In specific global regions this sort of attack is commonplace and no longer even news worthy.
Brussels has had a little taste of random bomb attacks, as have both London and Paris, and it is truly awful - then there are others who have witnessed sights so terrible it has become normalised.
The world is in a mess - a view shared and corroborated by Leila.
Society has a lot to learn, but we must all try to make the world better even if it is in the smallest way imaginable - these efforts still count. So what can I do? Currently I am creating 10 scrolls about war, so far I have completed two, this third one that I am working on is intriguing. My young sons create imaginary war scenes with Lego figures accompanied with their random squiggles on the scroll - then juxtapose these innocuous Lego battle scenes with actual images of war. My question is - and it is a question all mothers of sons must ask - 'When do boys make the transition from making squiggles and playing with Lego figures and then use the same hands to fire bullets and chuck bombs.'
Four details from War on a Scroll Part 3 created with my two sons aged 2 and 5-years-old (mixed media on 30-foot scroll of paper)
Why have these men become so disenchanted with the country of their birth to turn so violently against it? And how do we stop them and make them realise they are pursuing the wrong path? A path that only propagates suspicion, distrust and fear.