‘Our way of life’ and those pitch black days

Today I have nothing clever to say about the central European bank, writes economist Mathijs Bouman, in the wake of the Brussels bombs.

First there is an 8.30 tweet from @LeMondeLive about a ‘double conflagration’, two explosions in the departure lounge at Zaventum airport in Brussels.

Shortly afterwards I see images of people running from a smoking building. It’s obviously going to be one of those black days again, a day of watching tv disconsolately, a day that grows progressively worse with every new death and every new detail about the attacks.

Perhaps you’re expecting a little piece about the latest policy analysis of the CPB , or a clever remark about the European Central Bank.  But I haven’t anything to say about that now.

I am watching news bulletins with a heavy heart. Nothing clever comes to mind.

I’m listening to Belgian prime minister Charles Michel who tells us, first in French and then in Dutch, that ‘what we feared might happen has happened’.

I’m listening to German home affairs minister Thomas de Maizière who says this is an attack on our freedom and our mobility.

I’m watching prime minister Mark Rutte who talks of ‘premeditated murder’ and ‘a direct attack on our way of life’. It’s one of those pitch black days, when things like this have to be said.


We have heard them many times before. After 9/11, after the murder of Theo van Gogh, after the attacks in London, Madrid, Paris. And now Brussels. ‘This is an attack on our way of life’. It’s a cliché but true all the same.

A man straps on an explosives belt. He thinks that this is what his God and his friends want him to do. He puts himself in a busy place, an airport or an underground station, among ordinary people. People on their way to work. People who would have wanted to keep their little cog in society turning.

But the man with the explosive belt thinks they should die. As a symbolic gesture, to say that there is something wrong with the way they are living their lives and the freedom they enjoy.


My children are coming back from school in a bit. What do I tell them? How am I going to explain this? If this is an attack on our way of life how should we defend ourselves? The brave answer to this is: to keep on living the way we do.

But isn’t that a little too simplistic? This morning before he went to school my youngest said: ‘What I don’t really understand is that there are people who still believe in god’.

I don’t understand it either. And lots more besides.

This column appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad

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