terça-feira, 5 de abril de 2016
How to fix Belgium
How to fix Belgium
POLITICO asked politicians, analysts and writers to suggest ways Belgium can improve its response to Islamist violence.
By POLITICO 4/6/16, 5:33 AM CET
In recent months, Belgium has found itself in the eye of a media storm. From criticism of its week-long “lockdown” in the wake of the November Paris attacks to mockery of the manhunt that saw Europe’s most-wanted man captured 450 meters from his home in Molenbeek, analysis of Belgian political and intelligence failures has been unrelenting.
The “Belgium-bashing” became more poignant after March 22, when Brussels became a target, with attacks on the airport and a subway train killing 32 people and injuring hundreds. The brunt of the criticism is that Belgium is a breeding ground for jihadists, its intelligence system amateurishly weak, and political system is too fractured to do anything about either.
We asked a selection of politicians, policy analysts and writers to sort through the criticism. What — if anything — is really wrong in Belgium? And how can it be fixed?
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Belgium-bashing obscures reality of “foreign fighters” phenomenon
Belgium has dealt with terrorism since the 1970s and never lacked competence. It’s possible that mistakes were made in the ongoing police investigations, but focusing too narrowly on the “Belgian factors” is itself a mistake. The “foreign fighters” phenomenon is a global one. This type of migration associated with political violence has always existed — and unfortunately always will. The current problem resides in its unprecedented magnitude, partly due to the accelerating effects of social networks. While the number of at-risk individuals is a real issue in Belgium, countries like France, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia face similar challenges.
Radicalization is a highly complex process, in which political, religious, and socioeconomic factors converge. Not everyone who feels common grievances with the Sunni populations of Iraq has picked up arms to fight alongside ISIL. Nor has everyone who was exposed to online salafist propaganda, or who grew up in the ghettoized neighborhood of Molenbeek, left their home to wage jihad. Risk factors “speak” differently to each and every one of us, according to the way our worldview was psychologically and emotionally shaped during childhood.
The media has paid too much attention to the specific threat of Islam, forgetting that suicide bombings were perpetrated by all sides — Muslims, Christians and communist atheists — in the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) that made these tactics notorious.
The psychological factor, meanwhile, is dangerously under-analyzed. It is difficult to propose pragmatic recommendations on how to fight terrorism on the psychological front, but as a first step our efforts should center on better understanding the number of sibling duos (Tsarnaev, Kouachi, Abdeslam, El-Bakraoui, and the list goes on) who cross the threshold and commit terrorist acts. We lack a concrete understanding of what pushes these young men and women to extremism. The threat of terror will not abate until we can find ways to counter the trend.
Didier Leroy is an expert on jihadi movements for the Royal Military Academy of Belgium and an assistant professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
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The obstacles are structural: Belgium has to reform
A few weeks after the Brussels attacks, people have for the most part returned to their normal lives. For the city’s politicians, it will not be easy to do the same. The attacks have forced us to confront the unfinished business of the past.
Making Brussels stronger in its efforts against crime and terror is a priority. The sixth state reform refinanced the city’s government, but barely reformed it. Money was earmarked for security and the prime minister was given a greater coordinating role, but the basic security architecture between the city’s 19 communes and six police zones remained. Making sure the police maintains a close relationship with citizens is essential. But in its existing structure, the police clearly failed to follow up on radicalized youth next door.
At the same time, attempts to centralize intelligence have failed. There are no less than six institutions with some kind of intelligence brief, but there is no hierarchy between them, no central database on foreign terrorist fighters and far too little coordination. A temporary measure to alleviate the issue would be to designate someone in charge of coordinating intelligence. Next, the parliamentary enquiry commission should propose an adjusted structure for the Belgian intelligence and anti-terror services.
The unreformed and overstretched judiciary is another source of concern. Brussels’ criminal investigation and prosecution services are certainly not up to the task. The newly established federal prosecutor’s office has substantially improved the situation but, on its own, is not enough.
It’s common in Belgium for major crises to be followed by a parliamentary enquiry commission. And it is clear that it, in turn, must be a followed by a major overhaul of our security architecture.
John Crombez is leader of the Flemish socialist party SP.A.
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The problem — and the answer — lies in the politics of the Middle East
The terrorist murders in Brussels have been widely ascribed to a Belgian problem, but to focus on Belgium’s shortcomings rather misses the point. Islamist terror has occurred elsewhere and will continue to do so until the revolutionary élan is exhausted. When this happens depends less on the Belgian authorities than on politics in the Middle East.
But at least the Belgian government did one thing right: it did not give in to general hysteria, as it did after after the Paris attacks in November, when it shut down for close to a week. Most importantly, Belgium did not make the same mistake as France, where President François Hollande, out of fear of looking weak, called for a state of emergency. Its new emergency laws seem designed to further alienate and antagonize the Muslim minorities — and play right into the hands of revolutionary Islamist groups.
The only way to limit acts of terror is to have better information. And the only way to come by it is to gain the trust of the people who live in areas where terrorists are most likely to be recruited. Most people living in places like Molenbeek are not violent revolutionaries. They deplore terrorist violence as much as non-Muslims do. But if they come to regard the police, and other representatives of the state, as hostile to all Muslims, resentment can turn into sympathy for the extremists.
This does not necessarily mean minorities should be forced to assimilate into the mainstream cultures of their nation-states. In a country like Belgium, it isn’t even clear what the mainstream culture would be. And some of the least integrated minorities (Chinese living in Chinatowns, for example) pose no threat to society at all.
What the Belgian government needs to do is make sure young people can get jobs. Without better education, and greater opportunities to work, young people from vulnerable minorities will find it harder to establish themselves as responsible citizens.
The Islamist movement offers disaffected young people a ready-made cause, and a sense of purpose and belonging. As long as our societies fail to give them the same, the revolution will continue to pull them in. It would be comforting if this were just a Belgian problem. Unfortunately, it is not.
Ian Buruma is a Dutch writer and historian. He is the author of “Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance” (Penguin, 2006).
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Give Brussels more power to govern
The crisis we face is not specific to Belgium, or Brussels — it extends beyond our borders. Still, all eyes are on our city. And the situation here is made more difficult by the federal state’s lack of solidarity for Brussels — a product of the influence of the nationalist Flemish party, N-VA. We’re caught in a peculiar Belgian paradox: the state that seeks to weaken its own capital.
We need to stop divisive debates between political groups and communities. Only national unity will allow us to govern in an intelligent way, ensure our security and protect our common values.
Brussels is perfectly capable of governing itself — but only if it granted the respect, and the monetary means, it needs.
I am not a pessimist. We are a resilient country. What we need now is to shore up our security and, in the long-term, invest massively in jobs, housing, employment and culture.
We need to make sure wealth is equally distributed and bring politics — too often overshadowed by financial and economic interests — back to the fore.
These issues surpass my capabilities as mayor, but I will pursue my day-to-day duties as before: I will meet with our citizens, listen to their concerns and do my utmost to find better ways to live together.
Marc-Jean Ghyssels is mayor of the Brussels commune Forest.
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Europe needs long-lasting, cross-border policy solutions
Policy responses to terrorist attacks have too often been short-sighted. Political support for them quickly dwindles once media attention dies down. If we’re to prevent future attacks on the Continent, this has to change.
Intelligence services must cooperate and share information across borders. It was a catastrophic intelligence failure that authorities did not root out a network operating in Brussels itself. But law enforcement cannot do its job without political and financial support. This is especially true in Belgium, given the fragmented nature of its political system, with 19 communes in Brussels alone, and six separate and underfunded police units.
Europol must be given the resources to effectively monitor online networks extremists use to propagandize, radicalize and recruit freely. Social media companies must be held accountable when they allow their platforms to be misused.
Municipalities, states and federal governments need to review their existing cooperation with and funding of religious organizations to determine whether they are actually working on integrating individuals, or if they are entrenching segregation and the creation of parallel societies.
We need to support Muslims living in Europe who embrace our democratic values in a more strategic and sustainable way. They are the credible messengers best placed to counter Islamist propaganda in their communities. And they are often as concerned about the increasing radicalization as non-Muslims.
Collectively, as European countries, we must overcome our insular habits and make the meaningful changes that will protect our citizens from terror.
Roberta Bonazzi is director of the Brussels office of the Counter Extremism Project.
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Belgium needs to fix its inward-looking tendencies
Belgium has been accused of being weak, naïve, rotten. This targeted criticism shouldn’t take the place of a wider reflection of how to improve counter-terrorism efforts on the European and international levels.
And yet constructive self-criticism is essential. Belgian citizens deserve to be reassured as to the effectiveness of our counter-terrorism strategies, and we must to do everything in our power to guarantee success. This means ensuring our authorities cooperate, and reminding the federal government of its responsibility to make sure our country functions as it should.
We must also ask ourselves how we created an environment that provided fertile ground for radicalism. We clearly missed opportunities: for better education, more social cohesion, visions of a common future.
There is still too much socioeconomic and cultural exclusion in our neighborhoods. And yes, some of our political choices undermined our goals of multiculturalism and social progress. If we’re honest, all sides have been excessively inward-looking.
Young people who feel excluded from mainstream society are easy prey for recruiters of radical Islam. Their parents’ softer approach to religion can’t stand up to the lure of Salafi doctrine, especially since Belgium gave Saudi Arabia free reign on Islam in our country.
To prevent our youth from crossing over into violent extremism, we need to double down on efforts to build an inclusive society and ensure everyone is given the means to succeed. Education will play a fundamental role in this effort, as will policies related to employment, professional training, and housing.
We must also support the emergence of a religious practice that Muslims living in Belgium agree with and support. We cannot let a third-party country enforce interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with our secular society. Secularism, by guaranteeing respect for all religions, creates a space in which we can live together despite our differences — a space it is crucial we protect.
Rachid Madrane is minister for youth assistance and local courts (houses of justice) in Brussels.
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Enough with politically correct debate: Belgium needs to stand up to terror
Since the 1980s Belgium has focused on increasing social expenditures at the cost of other departments, notably internal affairs, justice and defense. We are by no means a “failed state” but it’s not unfair to say that our intelligence services have been neglected for over a decade. Only in 2010 did we enact a law that creates a legal framework for wiretapping.
The current federal government has taken steps in the right direction: We’re investing in our security forces and adopting legislation to fight terrorism more effectively. But let’s be realistic: It will take time to correct the mistakes of the past 25 years, especially if we want to implement fundamental changes, and not a patchwork of short-term solutions. It will do no one any good to hastily create a host of new laws that will be struck down by the Constitutional Court.
We know that 100 percent foolproof security is impossible. The Paris attacks, London bombings, 9/11 — none of these could have been prevented. Still, we have an obligation to critically assess how Belgium has dealt with radicalization and terrorism. That is why we are launching a parliamentary inquiry. We urgently need to assess whether there are structural issues that prevent us from making inroads in the fight against Islamic extremism.
There has been a tendency over the past years to avoid talking about contentious subjects out of fear of being politically incorrect. We need to get rid of the self-restraint and self-imposed taboos. Only a profound no-holds barred debate will give us realistic solutions to win out against terror.
Koen Metsu is president of the Belgian federal government’s temporary counter-terrorism commission and a member of Flemish political party N-VA.
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Belgium is fighting the wrong fight
Belgium, an artificial country? That’s far too easy. Despite our linguistic differences, we share a common way of life that makes up the backbone of this country. You’ll see it in the way we eat and drink, make homes and families, express our views on law and immigration. At the end of the day, the Flemish have more in common with the Walloons than they do with the Dutch; and the Walloons are more like the Flemish than they are like the French. We may speak different languages, but our state of mind has been shaped by centuries of shared history.
And yet… One of Belgium’s greatest failures is that it does not ensure every citizen speaks both its main national languages.
Belgium suffers from another systemic defect. Since 1970, the state has moved towards a federal system à deux: Flemish-speaking Flanders in the north, and French-speaking Wallonia in the south. Of course, Brussels is officially bilingual and there is a little German-speaking enclave in the east, but the country’s defining dynamic sees Flanders and Wallonia squaring off against each other. Political parties and major media organizations are both organized along those same linguistic lines.
And this model paralyzes the country. The smallest issue becomes an arm-wrestling match between the French- and Flemish-speakers.
It didn’t have to be this way, though. In 1962 ex-prime minister Paul Van Zeeland warned that the two-states system would lead to a “failure on both sides.” His alternative: a federal state divided into nine provinces.
In 1965, Antoon Spinoy, a socialist and deputy prime-minister at the time, put forth another idea: decentralize the state according to geography and economic performance, not language. His plan called for the country to be cut up into five regions, each structured around an urban hub: Brussels, Antwerp, Liège, Ghent and Charleroi.
Neither idea was every applied — and it’s a great shame. Today, the tug of war at the heart of our federal system is in large part to blame for its failure to accomplish anything.
But is it to blame for the many failures of Belgium’s counter-terrorist efforts? Partly, yes. The state has too often borne the brunt of the heavy costs from compromises struck between French- and Flemish-speaking parties. And yet it’s the federal government — penniless and unloved as it is — that now has to finance our judicial system, our intelligence gathering, and our police forces. If they want to increase security and avoid new tragedies, both the Walloons and Flemish people will have to stop staring each other down like enemies and learn to love the home they have in common
François Brabant is a political journalist for the daily newspaper La Libre Belgique.