The Paris attacks and the phenomenon of radicalisation in Belgium

EPA/LAURENT DUBRULE

A Belgian soldier observes the platform of a Brussels’ metro station following the terror alert level being raised to 4/4, in Brussels, Belgium, 25 November 2015.

The Paris attacks and the phenomenon of radicalisation in Belgium


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New Europe spoke with Dr. Carlo Facci about the phenomenon of radicalisation in Belgium related to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris by Islamic State. Facci is a political scientist based in Brussels and a senior lecturer at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Lebanon.

Can you explain the process of radicalisation in Belgium?

In both France and Belgium, integration – as a policy – has failed. Such an approach came after the assimilation approach, which was in use during the 1970s, helping very much to build up a real citizenship among the minority groups.

Today‘s integration is a kind of soft insertion, which is completely unable to face the more recent phenomenon of radicalisation. This is the product of a certain number of misunderstandings. One of them is the fact that radical Islam in Europe is considered as the product of economic poverty. This is not true because no one in Europe has ever been radicalised in order to get out of poverty. It‘s a matter of disaffiliation from the society in which these young generations live. While their fathers succeeded economically, whenever the newer generations get hostile towards the society they live in, this is merely for ideological reasons.

In this context, religion is the main ideological drive, but its configuration should be re-examined. For instance, the Belgian “mad cells” involved in the Paris attacks were formed by individuals who didn‘t go to the mosque. They were without any religious background and they were radicalised by external actors coming from the Middle Eastern Salafism.

What are your thoughts about Belgium’s response?

It is obvious that the attitude of Belgium was too permissive on this matter. On the other hand, Belgium has always experimented with a peaceful and consensual society.

Unlike other countries, we didn’t see in the past the development of a strong terrorist vague. As a reminder, Italy had the Red Brigades; Ireland the IRA and in Spain the ETA, nothing to compare with the peaceful Belgium.

The population in Belgium was not prepared to face this problem and to see police officers and the army on the streets. And the government is lacking juridical and security means to face this situation.  In Italy there exists a very restrictive and effective regulation called 41-bis on the detention of the Mafia. In this regard, Italy could be taken as a best practice in order to face the spread of terrorism, especially in the jails.

Is the European concept of laicity being threatened?

This is different form terrorism. This deals with the concept of citizenship.

Nowadays, the big challenge for the defence of laicity is to imagine an active role for our Muslim citizens in our society, which deals a lot with loyalty to their institutions.

Unfortunately, every request addressed to the Muslim citizens in order to change their religious habits and “compartmental codes” doesn‘t go with a request to play an active role in building a common house.

In a way, we are denying that Islam in Europe is a reality. In many countries where laicity is applied, those communities are just “invisible” for the state, meaning that it is even forbidden to name them in statistics. This is in the name of “politically correctness”.

What is wrong is that it is assumed that our Muslim citizens are like any other citizen, but, in reality, everyone who lives in a small city can see the difference in terms of habits. The problem of laicity today is mainly the fact that it is not possible to integrate or assimilate something that we don’t even want to openly name.

But in Belgium you also have Muslim citizens elected to the parliament and other institutions. Isn’t this good for integration?

The problem is not the existence of minorities. On the contrary, their insertion is desirable. Instead, the problem is related to the current weakness of the state in front of such communities. Communitarian claims in many European countries are much stronger than the state and authorities are weaker and weaker. In a word, the state risks succumbing to the communities – which is not acceptable, no matter what community.

Do you think Europe should strengthen its national intelligence services?

The Western countries involved in the fight against radical Islam are puzzled. Their analysis is visionless and their policies – both internal and external – are confusing. After the Paris attacks, President Hollande stated that “France is at war”. This is incorrect, unless IS is recognised as a member of the international community, which is not the case.

Indeed, it is important to distinguish, on the one hand, the internal fight against radical elements and, on the other hand, the external dimension towards Middle East-related issues. Indeed even if there is a strong relation between IS and the radicalisation of European Muslim citizens, it is misleading to melt security and defence on a national decisional plan.

Today, we see the army securing our cities – this should be embodied by the police. But, on the other hand, no one has a clear idea about how to defeat the so-called Caliphate by military means. The longer we wait to define these two separate domains, the more difficult it will be to face the future scenario.

The information and views set out in this article are those of the person interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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