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Beleaguered Belgium

Barbara Wesel Kommentarbild App *PROVISORISCH*
Barbara Wesel
March 23, 2016

Belgium was described as a "failed state" and a breeding ground for terror in the wake of the Paris attacks. The fragmented country made mistakes, but that is not the whole story, Barbara Wesel writes.

Belgien Place de la Bourse Brüssel
Image: picture-alliance/empics

For months we have known that terrorists live in Molenbeek, as well as Anderlecht and Schaerbeek, all Brussels neighborhoods - and that bomb makers and suicide attackers are also hiding in other Belgian cities.

We also know that the Belgians have six different police authorities that don't like to cooperate with each another, that anti-terror investigators only have 750 positions at their disposal, and that 150 of those posts are vacant. The organizational chaos that arises from the division of the country between Flanders and Wallonia is well documented.

Indeed, some of Europe's terrorists could have been apprehended sooner had there been better surveillance, more effective policing and more cooperation throughout the EU. Perhaps only total surveillance could guarantee that all members of such a broad and complex network could be caught. But a glance at Turkey or Russia shows that that argument, too, is baseless: Terror attacks also take place in authoritarian states with enormous security apparatuses, not just in open Western societies.

One can only derisively laugh at recent comments by Israel's intelligence services minister accusing Belgians of preferring to eat chocolate and enjoy life rather than concentrating on security. His own country, armed to the teeth, ultimately serves to illustrate that one cannot hinder individuals from carrying out terror attacks. The Polish prime minister is also running amok intellectually when she concludes that her country cannot take in Syrian refugees because of the terror attacks. The majority of the attackers were Belgian citizens, the children of fathers who immigrated to Europe decades ago. The terrorists live among us, and they have been doing so for years.

DW's Barbara Wesel
DW's Barbara WeselImage: DW/B. Riegert

No more tolerance for violence in the name of Islam

The answer lies not in lamenting youth unemployment and social ostracism. It is not poverty that motivates attackers to build nail bombs - it is the hate-filled message of a violent form of anti-Western Islam. It has spread throughout Belgium unimpeded for decades, beginning with the Saudi-Arabian Salafism that is preached in the country's mosques.

In predominantly Catholic-influenced Belgium, the rule has been that Muslims should be left to do as they please with their religion. The result has been that preachers have been able to spread their poisoned message of hate without outside interference. A parallel society has evolved in which hate for free Western societies has been the unifying message, bringing together a group of fervent followers who stand in defiance of the state. Here is where the terrorist sympathizers that helped shield the attackers from the eyes of the world are to be found.

False tolerance must end in Belgium and everywhere else that harbors large Muslim communities. No longer can society shy away from dealing with certain aspects of Islam, and its practices must be closely watched. Political caution has thus far kept this from happening, but it is here that one must start. Such measures dictate the control of mosques, fighting radicalization in prisons and the immediate criminal prosecution of every single "Islamic State" fighter returning from Syria.

These are all difficult tasks, and they are also politically contentious. But they represent the only chance to combat this type of terror. "God does not need murderers," was a fitting comment in an editorial of a major German newspaper. That is the message that peaceful Muslims are spreading among themselves and that the Belgian government should now make its agenda.

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