17 October 2006

A word from the ward

Last Thursday I received an e-mail message from the Warden of Brussels. I didn't know there was a warden of Brussels! If Brussels is a ward, then are we its:
a. inmates,
b. patients,
c. or orphans?
I wonder what kind of uniform this warden wears...

In any case, the e-mail was a message from my government telling me to watch out for terrorism. The subject heading was "Worldwide Caution"--wasn't it nice of the warden to be so specific?

The e-mail does eventually get specific, helpfully reminding me of virtually every terrorist attack over the last few years, from Thailand, Indonesia, Jordan, and Egypt, to New York, Madrid, and London. Future targets might include "high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas and locales where Americans gather in large numbers, including during holidays. Financial or economic targets of value may also be considered as possible venues."

Good, narrowed it down. It's nice to know that ANY place we might want to go, including the places we sleep, eat, pray, work, learn, and bank, are considered possible targets. Evidently the best thing to do is to avoid the company of large numbers of Americans. I tend to do this anyway, not out of dislike of Americans, but because the people around me in Brussels are generally some shade of European. I guess if you live in America, where there tend to be large numbers of Americans, you're out of luck.

The ultimate nugget of advice offered by the warden in this message is: "U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take the appropriate steps to bolster their personal security."

I'm touched that my government troubled to take the time to send me a little reminder about the dangers of being a human in this day and age. Yet, like everyone in the world, I am only too well aware of those dangers already, and I honestly don't know if this e-mail was helpful. Rather, I first opened it with a slight tremor of worry that it could be something serious, and am now left wondering what it is that I should do to "bolster" my "personal security." Something to do with decorative pillows? It's unlikely that we're going to forget about or somehow not notice the way things are going, globally speaking.

This sort of e-mail also makes me worry that perhaps they know something I don't, but for the sake of their investigation have to make the warning a "worldwide caution," instead of telling us what it's really going to be. Or maybe they're just covering their backs, in case something does happen; at that juncture they can then say, "look, we warned you to bolster your personal security!"

An even more skeptical part of me wonders if this is yet another example of the kind of fear-mongering that the Bush administration engages in from time to time. In order to make us feel that he is going to protect us like a cowboy protects his cattle, Bush first has to make us hyper-aware of the dangers from which we need to be protected.

Incredibly, this warning "Expires on April 9, 2007." What's going to happen on April 9? No more worldwide caution. All cautions will mold like overripe fruit. Or maybe, some six months from now, the warden will oblige us with a bit more specificity. In the meanwhile, I will make every effort to bolster my personal security.

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