Five years ago we spent a couple of weeks travelling around Belgium and Germany with the kids. It was an exciting family holiday, staying in youth hostels, visiting the picturesque Rhine and Moselle valleys of Germany, and spending a night in the cosmopolitan city of Brussels. Unwittingly, we chose the now notorious Schaerbeek district of Brussels to stay, as it was cheap, convenient for the centre, and we had no idea that it was a hotbed of Islamic terrorism.
Schaerbeek isn’t what you might imagine if you’ve been following the news recently – a run-down place of despair, abandoned by society, and a no-go area for the Belgian authorities.
Admittedly, it had character, and we clung to our bags and phones carefully – just as we would when visiting London, or any capital city. We noticed that many of the people on the streets were of Turkish or Moroccan origin. It wasn’t an affluent part of the city, and there were no other tourists in sight.
But it was thriving and bustling and friendly too, full of shops and markets, full of colour, full of life. It didn’t feel dangerous. We weren’t threatened. I have been to parts of London that have made me feel much more nervous.
There were thousands of people out on the streets of Schaerbeek, talking, meeting, buying, and selling. Perhaps one or two of them harboured dark thoughts of murder. Perhaps behind closed doors a small group of young men were meeting, discussing their hatred of Western society, and their desire to die as martyrs. But the overwhelming majority were ordinary people going about their daily lives.
The Brussels bombers didn’t represent those people. They didn’t represent anyone. Like the Paris bombers, they were petty thugs and criminals who found a twisted reason to hate.