When she woke up last Tuesday, Liz Diloh was worried about her father.
The Belgium native—born and raised about 30 minutes outside Brussels—woke up to an anxious text from a friend back home, alerting her of the bombings at the Brussels airport and metro station. The Islamic state claimed responsibility for the attacks, which left 31 dead and 330 wounded.
Diloh’s father commutes to work from that same metro station every day. He’s OK, she said, which is lucky—it was just a coincidence that he hadn’t gone to work the morning of the attacks.
“I was devastated,” said Diloh, a sophomore bioengineering major. “I was shocked. Things like that don’t happen in Belgium.”
During times like these, Diloh said living across the world from her family is especially challenging.
“I can’t comfort them in any type of way because I’m all the way over here,” she said. “When my family goes through something, I feel kind of disconnected because I can’t feel their pain, what they’re feeling. I feel pain on my side, but it’s not compared to what they’re feeling because they’re actually there.”
A university spokesman said that no Temple students are studying abroad in Belgium this semester.
Paul Crowe, a professor of instruction in the department of philosophy at Temple, studied in Belgium at the Catholic University of Louvain, earning his Ph.D. in phenomenology in 2000. While he lived in the country, he saw firsthand a lack in national unity.
There’s a common joke among many Belgians today, Crowe said, and it dates all the way back to the Korean War era. It goes something like this: during the war, a few Belgians were lost on the other side of the front line. When they tried to get back into their country, a Belgian commandant quizzed them, asking them to sing the country’s national anthem to prove their citizenship.
Not one of the Belgians could do it.
“Oh yeah,” the fictitious commandant would respond. “They’re Belgians.”
“In other words, Belgians don’t even know their own national anthem,” Crowe said. “Belgians would tell that story. They joke about their own lack of national identity.”
Joseph Alkus, an instructor in the criminal justice department, teaches a course on transatlantic terrorism and global security. He said national unity might have been the key to stopping Tuesday’s attacks.
“Part of the problem here is that you have a government in Belgium and in Brussels that is highly fragmented, which makes it very difficult for the kinds of intelligence information and threat analysis to occur in a proper manner,” Alkus said.
This isolation within a country’s government is called stovepiping, Alkus said, and it’s a big problem in Belgium. Better national intelligence coordination is the first step toward preventing future terrorist attacks like what happened last Tuesday.
Another problem for Belgium, Alkus said, is a result of immigration. Belgium hosts a number of African, Middle Eastern and Muslim immigrants, but they’re often treated unfairly in society. There are whole “neighborhoods” of isolated minorities in Belgium, Alkus said.
Diloh said as a black woman in Belgium, she experienced discrimination and racism regularly. It got so bad in high school that she left during her junior year, immigrating to America by herself to finish her education.
“There’s not a lot of opportunities when it comes to minorities,” Diloh said. “The school system isn’t bad, but they put minorities down there, in a way. It’s really hard to excel.”
That isolation of races can create “targets for radicalization,” Alkus said, which is exactly what extremist terrorist groups look for, he added.
“The fact is it’s a complex problem that requires complex solutions,” Alkus said.
“My heart goes out to the victims,” he added. “There really is no justification for terrorism.”
As the country begins to recover from last Tuesday’s attacks, Crowe said perhaps Belgians might finally unite and develop a renewed sense of patriotism.
“They’re unified in suffering,” Crowe said. “Maybe this is bringing them all together.”
Michaela Winberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mwinberg_.