A Strange New World
by Nia Garnakelis*
It was a few minutes past eight in the morning the day of the Brussels attacks, and I was heading to work. We had just been alerted of an explosion of causes still unknown at the Brussels Zaventem Airport. On my way to the office, people seemed a bit uptight- more than usual; and even more pre-occupied with their cell phones. Still not knowing what exactly had happened, I walked into the office – our media hub. Our TVs were on, and they were covering the recent events at the airport. And there it was, two explosions, video footage of people running in all directions to shelter onto the parking areas of the airport. Shortly after, we are informed of the explosion in the metro. Watching this all unfold on television made me think back to the attacks in Paris, and I felt a tinge of fear …Would they start shooting people next? I guess this is what is feels like to be terrorized, that split second when you realize your present and your imminent future is being dictated, controlled by someone else. The instant urge to flee, the instinct of taking a quick assessment of your surroundings, that fight for survival coupled with a feeling of fear and despair. That feeling slowly dissipates as you realize you are safe in your offices – and protected.
Then, the second rush of adrenalin hits when you think of your friends/family that are living and working in the city like yourself, hoping they are safe too. Amusingly enough, Facebook “saved the day” with their location notification safety setting. Within minutes, everyone was checking in, a much needed reassurance. Messages from friends and family from around the world were also extremely comforting. Social media has definitely made the world a lot smaller, information travels so fast these days, sometimes almost too fast, but in situations like this, sometimes not fast enough! The hours that followed were a bit surreal and strange. Being a media specialist, a big part of my job is to analyze news commentaries. On a day like this one, we were simply reporting. Analyzing and dissecting news also makes you apathetic to some extent, and though this did not happen on that day, I have to admit, we did all feel a bit detached. We were in a bit of shock but our steadfast professionalism also kicked in, and we wanted to get the facts, we wanted to report a concise, succinct piece that reflected a more poised approach to all the noise around us.
We wrote about the Brussels attacks for five days. On the day of March 22, pan-European press was reporting of the “chaos in Brussels,” Elpais.com, as The Guardian.com signaled “Brussels on lockdown after deadly blasts at airport and metro,” adding, “The Belgian prosecutor confirmed that the airport explosions were caused by a suicide attack.” Turkey’s Star portrayed a “terrorist Belgium,” and FAZ pondered, “An act of revenge for the arrest of Salah Abdeslams?” The following day, on March 23rd, it was “Europe at war,” from Ta Nea, and Les Echos cited, “Europe attacked.” Handelsblatt reflected, “[T]he decisive question now is: Will Europe survive? Following the attacks in Madrid, London and Paris, everyone must be aware of one thing: Only a united Europe will be able to withstand terror,” as La Razon argued, “[T]he war that ISIL has created… is no longer a territorial conflict but a sabotage of the principles of freedom and tolerance of democratic societies…,” and urged, “[W]e must defend our civilization placing our common interests above national needs.” Gazeta Wyborcza warned, “Let us have no illusions about it—Europe has not been and will not be secure in the near future. With the Islamic religious fanaticism spreading across the globe, the threat will continue to grow.” On the 24th, it became a blame game, with outlets underlining “poor intelligence and marginalisation underlay attacks” and that “Belgian security services were warned about one of the bombers but failed to act, ” calling it a “tragedy of errors,” The Independent. On the 29th, Corriere della Sera blatantly calls the investigation “the Belgian mess,” while the Belgian De Morgen reported, “There are many loose ends and no real breakthrough in the investigation of the Brussels attacks.” La Stampa asserted, “This is why an EU FBI is necessary,” and Belgium’s Der Standard likewise stressed, “In order to defeat terrorism, prudent and connected political cooperation is required….” Finally, on the 30th, Gazeta Polska Codziennie wrote, “A week after the attacks in Brussels, police and special services are under growing criticism over the mistakes they made,” while La Razon observed on a softer note, “Belgium tries to return to normalcy although the wounds of the worst attack in its history will take time to heal.” Belgium’s La Libre summarized, “[I]t seems that Belgium has become international observers’ preferred punching bag,” yet concluded, in typical Belgian self-criticism, “[W]hen a country spends 541 days forming a Government, is it surprising it neglects services that should normally receive daily attention?”
In the novel, A Brave New World, Aldous Huxley dealt with issues of technological advancements, and their effects on the individual. Technology he said, would lead to a more dehumanizing society, distances would grow shorter, and true privacy would be rarer. He then showcased that people in industrialized societies worried about losing a familiar way of life, and perhaps even themselves in the process. This nightmare vision of a fast-paced but numbing and meaningless routine that the Brave New World illustrated, reflected this widespread concern about the world in the 20s and 30s. That was over 80 years ago, and Huxley was a visionary. After the events that took place here in Brussels, I immediately thought about this book: the comparison of humans to assembly lines, the mass production and consumption of goods, and to our hedonistic manners. I am not saying that these factors have spawned terrorism, but the truth that our way of life is threatened and despised should make us stop and think. Looking back, it’s hard to explain how we all actually filtered the information, the accusations, the fear, and the anxieties we tried to mask. The return to normalcy was the easy part, as we are creatures of habit, and succumb to the mercies of our daily lives. The hard part is accepting the world we have created while trying to juxtapose our desires as needs and our needs as desires. Ending, the words of World Controller Mustapha Mond resonate all too well: “The Gods are just. No doubt. But their code of law is dictated, in the last resort, by the people who organize society; providence takes its cue from men.” Chapter 17, A Brave New World.
Nia (Ourania) Garnakelis is Media Specialist at U.S. – European Media Hub, in Brussels, Belgium.