A Reflection on Brussels

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Wes Knowles, a junior international relations major currently participating in the Lutheran College Washington Semester Program in D.C. and interning with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. I immediately reached out to Wes after hearing about Tuesday’s terror attacks in Brussels, and asked if he would be willing to write an reflection essay in light of his study abroad experience in Brussels during the fall 2015 semester. He graciously accepted the invitation, and I want thank him for writing such an honest and insightful essay on short notice. — BP

There is a great scene from the all-time great movie This Is Spinal Tap where the clueless band leader shows off his new guitar amp complete with a knob that goes to 11 as opposed to 10. When asked “why not make it louder and have ten be louder,” the rocker exclaims “but this one goes to 11.” He doesn’t realize that objectively, 11 is not louder than ten, and that his logic is somewhat warped on this subject.

After the attacks in Brussels, I fear Spinal Tap was right, this stereo does in fact go to 11.

Given the wide scope of human tragedy in Paris and the migration crisis as a whole it feels strange to say that we have reached such an extreme benchmark. However, the attack in Brussels has truly taken this situation up to a level none of us could have anticipated. Except, perhaps, our friends in Spinal Tap.

I studied in Brussels, and I have now seen videos of people lost amidst ash and dust in Zaventem airport, screaming with fear right next to the Starbucks I spent two hours at during a flight delay. I saw the burned out metro car that detonated 4 stops from where I lived and two stops from where I interned. The attacks occurred at a time when I absolutely would have been on the way to work or school. It could have been me in that airport or metro car, plain and simple.

I wrote last time about a better tomorrow, but that tomorrow has yet to come. The reality is we cannot care about Brussels, about Paris, about refugees, or about politics only when the BBC, CNN, Reuters, or Bloomberg app informs us in a sentence that others have tragically died. If we want our better tomorrow we have to take action. We have to do more than hope; we have to commit to the future we so desperately want with our own action. Yet what can we reasonably expect to accomplish?

Today, March 22, when I arrived at my internship with the Department of Homeland Security in D.C. I was able to read and gather information on what happened so other more experienced professionals could make decisions. It made me feel better, like I made a difference. It helped me forget that at 6:58 A.M I entertained the terrifying notion someone I cared about could be dead or dying.

Yet what can be done in the small town of Salem? Quite a lot in fact.

Roanoke has a refugee center, and I am ashamed to say I have never been there. We should all go there; to hear their stories, to share our own with them, to cook, to sew, to teach English, and let them know that we love them and that they are our brothers and sisters.

Did you know there is a mosque in Salem?  Some of us have been there, and going and letting them talk about their deep faith and belief was an eye-opening experience for me. We should go, and let them know that they too are our brothers and sisters, that we do not hate them.

It may seem crazy that such activities can help those in need, but consider this: someone was willing to die to see their fellow citizens in Brussels die as well; rage like that does not come purely from religious belief, it comes from a belief that the world does not care about them, that there is no hope. They had no empathy for us, because they believed we had no empathy for them.

It does not matter whose fault it is for this lack of understanding, it only matters that we fix it. Otherwise, this disgusting cycle of violence will never be broken. It is because of this I propose Roanoke College host its own refugee family on campus, and see to their needs and let them know they too are our brothers and sisters. It’s being done at Guilford College, and quite successfully! Check these two links to see how it works: here and here.

Guilford College is a peer institution. We play them in sports, we have many students from the Greensboro area, and our faculty and staff have worked with and for them in the past. If Guilford can do it, so can we. We have the housing, we have the means, we have a great school system in Salem, and we have one of the most open and friendly campuses in America. We can do this.

After an attack we often feel angry and wish death and vengeance upon our unseen attackers. But we have plenty of killers in this world. What we don’t have are enough peacemakers, or enough people assisting those caught up in the living nightmare that is Europe and North Africa’s migration crisis. Let’s all be change makers at Roanoke, because when (not if) this happens again the worst place we can be is staring at the wall wondering what we did not do.