by Jan Gruiters, PAX
“Do you hear the silence.” A poem Utrecht´s city poet Els van Stalborch wrote in response to the horrible, irrational violence that kills and injures innocent people. Out of the blue on a Monday morning in Utrecht, on a tram on the 24th of October Square. A square named for the date of the founding of the United Nations.
Do you hear the silence? You can hear it in the PAX office in the centre of Utrecht, not far from the scene of the shooting. A distant siren. The clatter of a helicopter. A taxi speeds along a deserted street. But in the silence, you also hear the people’s sadness for lives snatched away. And you hear the fear of what may be coming.
“Utrecht holds its breath,
fear runs on stocking feet
through the streets and beats
on doors, windows,
sneaks into schools and
scares children. ”
Hold your breath
Utrecht holds its breath. The Netherlands is holding its breath. People are searching for answers. Was this violence caused by mental illness, or to commit a crime? Or is it aimed at our way of life, at democracy and the rule of law, and thus at all of us? This question hits home. We are all too aware that a terrorist attack can further divide an already polarized society. So we hold our breath.
Regardless of what motivated the shooter in Utrecht, the question remains: what do we do with the fear that knocks on our doors and creeps into our houses and our hearts? What do we do with the awareness that our way of life, that our own lives are so vulnerable to violence and division?
Dutch right-wing populists Theirry Baudet and Geert Wilders have an answer that has been heard before in our recent past, the results of which we continue to mourn. An answer that both responds to fear and fuels that fear. Their response: evil comes from elsewhere, from people with a different background, a different religion, people they say do not belong here. They call for people to lock their doors and windows — to lock the outsider out…