Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Terrorist Standing Next to You

What would you do if you knew the guy standing next to you in line at McDonald's was a terrorist?

This week there was a terror alert in Switzerland, one of our two homes. At least four, maybe more, men who are believed to have connections to the terrorists who struck Paris last month were thought to be in the Geneva area, perhaps to target the United Nations offices here. Or perhaps the annual Escalade event through the streets of Old Town, commemorating the city's independence.

Two men were caught and arrested. The car they were using allegedly had traces of explosives.

Where were they apprehended? The parking lot by a McDonald's - about 2 kilometres from where we live, about 6 km east of downtown Geneva. We don't go to McDo's very often, but when we do it's usually the one in La Pallanterie.

More often, at least once a week, sometimes more, we stop for fresh bread at the boulangerie that is less than 100 metres from McDonalds.

The terrorist in the queue or brushing past you on the sidewalk or filling the van with diesel at the gas pump next to yours is not just a European phenomenon. Just ask folks in the Middle East, Africa, Mexico, California, Colorado, Oregon. (Terrorists can be old white guys or drugged up teenagers too.)

With the spectre of violent, indiscriminate attacks so possible close to home, how should we cope?

Saturday we attended a writers' workshop in a building not far from the UN. Beforehand I found myself mentally rehearsing the layout of the building, possible exits, how I/we might react if thugs in black masks with AK47s burst in while we were discussing writing techniques.

Afterward we went to lunch at a restaurant nearby, having to drive past the UN building to get there.

You cannot stop living. You cannot hide under the bedcovers and hope the boogeymen will pass you by.

But neither can you be blissfully unaware of your surroundings. It's not unlike being vigilant for criminals. You avoid places where the likelihood of danger is high. (Not just inner cities; I would not shop in a suburban Texas WalMart that allows people to openly carry weapons in the store.) You pay attention to the people around you. You don't allow your car to get boxed in with nowhere to go - whether on the Spanish highways where road pirates lurk or at a traffic light in a city. Now I tend to have my Swiss army knife on me at all times - no match for a Kalashnikov but maybe I could do some damage. Emergency numbers are pre-programmed into my phone. I've always kept my hand on my wallet as I walk in crowded places. Donna-Lane's pocketbook and my manbag have the long straps that can go over our heads, not just on one shoulder where they could easily be grabbed.

We're not paranoid, just prudent. Certainly we don't want to die, but neither do we want to simply exist and not 'live.'

I don't have all the answers to solve the global terror problem. I think if the US and its puppet friends in the UK-France-Germany stopped drone-bombing the Middle East, that'd be a start. Stop selling arms to the Saudis and other barbaric regimes. Stop the mass accumulation of wealth by the few that leaves millions in poverty and despair and serves to breed contempt ... and terror. Maybe elect a couple of honest politicians who are not in the pockets of the oil and weapons companies.

There are no more 'safe zones' - not on the grassy campus quadrangle with a homemade sign, not behind the high hedges of a gated, guarded community, not standing in line for a McFlurry. But every one of us can, and should be, more attuned to those around us.

Above all, continuez à vivre.

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