The end of 2016 is in sight now and I do not think I am entirely alone at looking forward to a better year in 2017. Certainly 2016 has been a bit fuller of incident than perhaps I expected and a lot of it not that good. The loss of far too many people whose work I enjoyed and/or respected and various votes (I’m not using the B word) going – in my opinion – disastrously wrong excepted, I think that the main thing that will stay with me was the rather surreal experience of being close to the terrorist attacks in Brussels back in March. It seems a lot longer ago in a way; but it is still pretty vivid in my mind.
People are affected by things like this in different ways. Personally, I tend to not change my behaviour as I have, in the nature of my work, read a lot about the nature of risk, or in particular, perception of risk. It is this latter facet that is the unhelpful one much of the time, leading us to make decisions that if looked at carefully in the light of the actual facts do not make much sense. One of the quoted statistics in the area is the huge increase in road fatalities in the US after the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City; people suddenly saw flying as too risky and instead started to drive everywhere. And have accidents. Meanwhile, at least from a security perspective, flying was safer than ever precisely because of the high alert. But the decision was not a rational one.
I will be using the Brussels Metro in the next few days quite a lot, just as I intended to on the day of the attacks and through the same station. Having lived through the attacks on London by the IRA, you sometimes get into what you could call a bloody minded state where part of you is almost daring terrorists to disrupt you going about your normal life. But the reality is that you are changing your behaviour in some ways, even if they turn out to be subtle. Small things; I definitely pay more attention to my fellow passengers more than I did before March. Sometimes I even can feel a little nervous, especially on the parts of the line close to the various EU Institutions. I think I have also gotten used to the soldiers on platforms throughout the city – before that would have jarred I think, now it just seems normal. How effective they would be to protect me is another question, but that is not really why they are so visible – it’s a deterrent probably to all but the committed nutter out there and meant to be a reassurance to the ordinary punter that whatever happened back then the situation now is under control.
I think the good news for Brussels is that being the centre of the EU institution and being established as a city famous for chocolate, strong beer and a tiny statue of a boy peeing most people will find the memory slipping of what happened earlier this year. People need to go there, as I do for work or go through it to reach a lot of other European cities. Cities are resilient.
Those involved in any way, even in the minor way I was, however, will not forget and will have to decide, individually, how much they want to be impacted by it as we all move forward into a world that seems far less easy to predict at the end of 2016 compared to the world we started this seriously odd year with.