Belgium's Unconnected Dots

I woke up on the morning of March 22 at 7:30a.m., only to find my radio-alarm clock blaring with alarms, rather than the news. But that was the news. They were alarms in Belgium. Belgium had been attacked. By who? It was unsure. Was it a terrorist attack? Most likely.

Two suicide bombings at Brussel’s Zaventem airport, one almost right after the other, had fatally gone off in two separate and busy locations. About an hour after that (around 8a.m.), Maelbeek Metro Station suffered an explosion. Together, the explosions cost at least 30 people their lives, and numerous more injuries.

It wasn’t until a few hours later that Belgian police confirmed that it had been a terrorist attack – one that, almost not surprisingly, ISIS had claimed. A few hours after that, a photo had been released of the three suspects, two wrecked by their crime, and one seemingly at large.

Like the rest of the world watching, I was saddened by what I heard and saw for the rest of that day. But perhaps like many Belgians, I was also disappointed. This goes back to November 2015.

As you may recall, Paris suffered similar soft-target attacks, only more detrimental and dispersed. Since then, authorities around Europe have upped their security, almost in expectation for more of these attacks. Belgium, the tiny country bordering Paris to the North, put their terrorist threat to its highest level after Paris, though they were not directly effected by the explosions. Why was this?

Well, Belgium has the most number of people flee to Syria to join ISIS per head of population. They have isolated immigrant communities that are relatively poor and unable to break into the labour market. There are seldom opportunities, giving these youth nothing to do and generating a community of agitated and frustrated young men and women. So of course, when someone comes along, offering them a ‘purpose’…

However, there was a direct link between the main terror suspect of the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, and Belgium, as he hid, conspired and networked within Brussels. With all this in mind, Belgium’s terror threat has been on high alert, performing continuous raids night after night, and confiscating weapons, making arrests and eradicating as many ‘threats’ as possible since November. 

On March 18th, Belgian authorities captured Abdeslam. Even with his cooperation with police, there were high expectations for a reprisal attack. And four days later, it happened.

But with all these security precautions and excessive preventative measures taken at the expense of people's infringed rights and freedoms, how could this terrorist attack have been overlooked? With all these raids and captures, wouldn’t there be a golden database of information? Shouldn’t this information have been communicated between different levels of government, police and anti-terror organizations, not only within Belgium, but across Europe and even overseas? Two of the three suspects from last Tuesday’s attack were known to the police. Ironically, if our privacy is being broken for security reasons, what we are giving up is being given up for nothing. This information is supposed to be used for our security, and if it’s being used in the wrong way, why accept this?

Combatting terror attacks meld with human rights and privacy issues. The infringement of people's privacy rights and collection of their personal information doesn't seem to be the most effective way to combat their fear of future terrorist attacks. I understand that it's hard for a nation to handle this alone, which is what makes communication between countries a very crucial and needed element in existing preventative strategies.

I don’t think going through my personal information does anything for the government, either. I think people get angry that our privacy is being broken without realizing that we live everyday giving our information to different sources all the time. What would happen if the government read a text message of mine? Nothing, really. So if the government is going to spend time and money on this – put it to freakin’ good use. Don’t keep it within ONE nation, because this isn’t just ONE nation’s problem!