Five days after the Paris attacks, Brussels went into a citywide lockdown due to fear that one of the terrorist organizers was hiding within the city on Nov. 21.
According to a November Reuters report written a week after the attacks, “The European Union will step up checks on its citizens traveling abroad, tighten gun control and collect more data on airline passengers, ministers agreed on Friday in response to the Paris attacks.”
The city’s threat level remained at the level 4—the highest possible level—for five days. While the city was in lockdown, Belgian police and anti-terrorism forces interviewed dozens of people, conducted raids, and arrested nine people thought to be in cahoots with Salah Abdeslam, an organizer of the Paris attacks.
On Nov. 26, the threat level was mysteriously lowered to a level 3.
“The authorities did not immediately explain what prompted the change,” according to the New York Times. The Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles Michel, offered no further information as to exactly why or how this decision was made. After being in a state of complete lockdown in which schools and businesses were not allowed to open, citizens were asked to remain inside their houses, the city of Brussels was now free to roam as usual.
Compared to U.S. border security after the 9/11 attacks, and the new requirements in accordance with the U.S.A. Patriot Act, Belgium’s decisions for border security could be considered extremely lax. Following 9/11 the U.S.’ goal was to “Balance counterterrorism efforts and civil liberties,” according to a New York Times article.
Thanks to the 26-nation open-borders Schengen zone, before the Paris attacks EU citizens were only subject to a visual check of their documents according to Reuters. This works similarly for U.S. citizens who only need a state-issued ID when traveling within the nation, rather than a passport.
Since the attacks and the high influx of refugees coming into EU nations, the Schengen zone regulations are being revised. New York Times quoted Letta Tayler, a Human Rights Watch terrorism researcher, stating “Whenever a country is attacked or threatened, there is a danger that governments will overreact in an effort to make people secure.”
But Belgium has seemed to take the opposite approach.
So, is America overreacting?
According to CNN, a father was outraged after watching his daughter get “groped” by TSA agents because she was holding a Capri Sun juice box. The juice box exceeded the three ounce limit for liquids allowed in carry-on luggage. Whether we can chalk this up to fear from the Paris attacks or good ol’ American security practices, it’s hard to tell. As for Belgium, they want the Paris attacks to remain an isolated incident.
To hear from a Belgian citizen on the matter, I spoke to Francois Wery, a native of Brussels.
“I’m more scared to take the car or the motorbike than walk around,” Wery said.
Wery commented on how much military there has been around the city since the lockdown. He feels this form of security is a better option than the closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras that are scattered throughout the city of London.
When asked about American security, Wery thought it was immoderate.
“[I’m] impressed by all the controls at the American border,” he said. “I was checked five times from Brussels to Seattle, but when I came back I had only one check.”
Though the Paris attacks hadn’t yet occurred, to many Europeans, American security seems excessive compared to their lax border controls, like in Belgium.
Things have been calm in Belgium, until the end of December when Belgian authorities arrested two people on terrorism charges. Their plans were focused on civilian sites, specifically the central square, where a huge Christmas market was located–no weapons or explosives were found.
It seems as though Belgium has decided not to let the terrorists win by allowing normal life in Brussels to continue.