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What to Do When There’s a Terrorist Attack Far Away

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A day that begins with several explosions that leave tens of people dead and hundreds wounded is a bad day.

Today, the bad day was in Brussels. I’m not there, but several of my friends are. They were lucky to have escaped mostly unharmed, but it was a scary and tense morning. Before noon, though, they were all accounted for and I decided to limit my exposure to news and get them from the radio. It was necessary, because I was far away.

If you’ve travelled around Europe or the Middle East much (or at all, really), chances are you’ve been to a place that has, in recent months, survived one or more attacks. Maybe your friends or family live there, maybe somebody was just passing through.

When an attack happens in a place you have links to and you’re nowhere near, there are two things you can do: first, locate your loved ones. Then get off social media.

Not because you’re a heartless idiot, but because you’re not. You know the drill: the minute the news starts coming in, so do opinions. And when a place you care about is under attack, opinions aren’t what you want to be faced with, particularly not the vicious and unintelligent ones, and if you have any experience with disasters, you know opinions come in fast, and in scores.

And if you’re the one who wants to express an opinion, consider this: there may be people among your contacts still desperately trying to find their family, and they don’t need to hear that “the people of such-and-such place were asking for it, because …” It may not even be over yet. Brussels, apparently, is calm as I write this, but nobody can tell for sure.

So think carefully before you:

1. Say anything Donald Trump might say.

2. Post thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families. Why are you posting that? Have they asked for them? If they haven’t, then don’t. They don’t care – they’ve just been in a terrorist attack and they have stuff to do: get wounds dressed, pick up their children from school, check if their house is still standing, donate blood, make sure people around them are safe. And then possibly go out for a drink or two, in defiance.

3. Add a flag to your profile photo/avatar. After the Paris attacks it was pretty obvious who in my circle added it because they had a special spot in their heart for Paris and who did it to show their disdain for the religion of the attackers. Don’t be an asshole and don’t be too harsh on others, either: you don’t know people’s reasons for certain.

4. Lecture. Yes, media coverage of the terrorist attacks sucks. The two separate attacks Turkey over the weekend killed almost just as many as the attack in Brussels, and got little airtime. People die daily in the Mediterranean. And if we started just listing wars that the West has contributed to, we’d be here all night. But are you sure this is the time to make your friends feel guilty because they care about something? Or, more heartbreakingly, someone?

5. Donate. Once things settle down there will be places you can donate to help the people who were effected by the attack and their families. Donate what you can to help these people move on with their lives.

But you can certainly share the Mannekin Pis memes. Or the fries one. And when the Belgians come up with their own version of #jesuisenterrace, you can probably join in.


What are some other things that we can do from afar? Leave them in the comments.

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Barbara S

Barbara S