As Belgium reels from the terrorist bombings and tragic loss of life, the global media is repeating again and again the grim statistic that Belgium has the highest number of jihadi per inhabitant in Europe. But this is not the major problem. Rather, it's the internal turmoil that has meant an area like the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek is possible: a haven where terrorists can hide, plot, gather weapons, and find shelter.
Belgians are tired of references to their country as 'incompetent', 'failed', or 'crazy'. After all, these attack came after Belgian counterterrorism police arrested Salah Abdeslam, believed to be the last surviving terrorist involved in the Paris bombings of last November. And they note that no-one called the US a failed country because it failed to prevent 9/11 (even though it is well documented the intelligence community had received warnings), or leveled such an accusation at London when the MI6 did not foresee the underground bombings.
As soon as the Paris attacks were traced to Belgian cell, Belgium deployed a wide arsenal of forces, eventually catching Abdeslam in an operation in Molenbeek earlier this week. That success was tempered by fear it would trigger a reprisal attack.
The media has been quick to relay the views of Belgium's Minister of Interior Jan Jambon, who said the now infamous precinct of Molenbeek is a lawless place. However Mr Jambon is also a prominent member of the Flemish Nationalist party that wants an evolution toward a state of Flanders that would be politically independent from Belgium. For Flemish Nationalists, this attack will only prove further that the Belgian state is obsolete.
The irony is they already rule Belgium. The influence of Flemish Nationalists on federal institutions has reached a stage where they control policy. They have already proved they can pull the plug on a cabinet and delay the formation of a new one for years on end. They do not want Belgium to survive, and they loathe Brussels.
The arch-emperor of Flemish nationalists is the Mayor of Antwerp, Bart de Wever. He is Flanders' very own Donald Trump, flattering the middle-class and blaming everyone else (Arabs, migrants, welfare recipients, and above all, Francophone Belgians) for everything that goes wrong. Tragically, these bombings will only validate his thesis that holds Muslims are a danger, Francophones cannot manage their cities themselves and none of this would have happened if Belgium had been split.
De Wever rules Belgium. When the current cabinet was formed, the pressure applied by Nationalists on its program was obvious for all to see. Cartoonists portrayed Prime Minister Charles Michel as a puppet whose strings were pulled from Antwerp by Bart de Wever.
However, Francophone politicians are not blameless. Philippe Moureaux is now known worldwide as the long-serving mayor of Molenbeek. The Francophone socialist is accused of an exchange of electoral favours that gave such free reign to the Muslim community that it allowed the radicalised fringe to grow without any fear of control. But even Moreaux's most serious opponents acknowledge that one man cannot be held responsible for the situation in Molenbeek. In any other country, some national authority would have taken action there.
The problem is not that Belgium has the highest number of jihadi per inhabitant in Europe. This would still make less terrorists in Belgium than in countries whose population is infinitely higher than ours. And as much as Moureaux et al gave into the sin of party machines and personal ambitions, nothing can hide the bigger problem: we lack a proper, strong, capable federal system able to prevent or tackle a problem with the dimensions of Molenbeek. One able to cope with the violent, fast transition from a well-known al Quaeda to a new face like ISIS, to cope with their methods and organisation, with the new names and the new places. It is not the job of the mayor, it is the job of a strong central state.
The Belgian federal state has been too weak this last decade to do such a thing.
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