JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
On Tuesday, March 22, a couple of explosions rocked Brussels Airport, killing 11 people. Another blast struck near the European Union headquarters an hour later, leaving approximately 20 people dead in the Belgian capital. The Islamic State has taken responsibility for the attack, and two of the suicide bombers have now been identified as Belgian nationals.
Here to discuss with us the recent attacks in Brussels is our guest, Chris Hedges. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and a regular columnist at Truthdig. He’s also the former Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times. Thanks so much for being with us, Chris.
CHRIS HEDGES: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: So, Chris, this news certainly is dominating headlines right now. And many people are asking themselves, why Brussels?
HEDGES: Well, I think for many of the same reasons we saw the attacks in Paris. You have a large immigrant community that comes out of North Africa, in particular. They tend to be segregated within the society. There’s a heavy degree of racism. High unemployment. There is a struggle for identity, because, for instance, they may have been born in Tunisia or wherever, come to Belgium or France at a young age, but because of the endemic European racism don’t fit in, are not treated as equals. And yet when they go back, you know, they’re looked upon as being French or Belgian.
DESVARIEUX: When you say they’re not treated as equals, can you give us an example?
HEDGES: Well, especially in French society, they’re segregated into [banleus], these horrific Stalinist-type housing projects on the outside of French cities, Leon, Paris, and other places. And unemployment is very high. The majority of the prison population in France is of North African descent.
And they are easy prey because of the way European society has treated them. They’re easy prey for these Islamists. Many of them have been adrift. I mean, you actually, most of them don’t come out of religious households. They’re involved in petty crime, and for what I had read of the two suicide bombers at the airport in Belgium, they had a history of petty crime. And then they have this kind of conversion experience where their rage is sanctified. And the rage is legitimate. I mean, they have every reason to be angry at the way they’ve been treated. And that translates into these kinds of attacks. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is we have to acknowledge that for the last 13 years in Iraq, 15 years in Afghanistan, we have been bombing these people night and day. We have created millions of refugees, over a million dead in Iraq. And they don’t have an air force. So if you’re bombing Raqqa, as we are continuously, which of course, you know, these 500,000-pound fragmentation bombs are hardly surgical weapons. They can take out, you know, several houses on a city block. So the collateral damage, as we call it, is quite high. So the only way that ISIS can strike back is, essentially, through these kinds of attacks.
DESVARIEUX: And in the aftermath of these kind of attacks, you have folks like Hillary Clinton. She’s come out saying that we need more surveillance. And Ted Cruz, and other nominees. So do you think this type of, sort of knee-jerk responses that we need surveillance, what’s your counter for that?
HEDGES: Well, they’re dealing with the symptom, not the cause. The cause is the U.S. military occupation of the Middle East, and the brutality, and I would even call it state terror, let’s include the terror of drones, has inflicted on huge swathes of the population. And this is a very potent recruiting tool in the hands of groups like ISIS. And the reason that they have expanded to the extent that they have. So violence, our violence, is what created these groups. We go all the way back to the war against the Soviet Union and our empowering of ISIS. You know, we have created these groups.
And what you’re, what these political figures are in essence calling for is a tactic, you know, which has contributed tremendously to this kind of terrorism, i.e. violence, as the way we’re going to defeat these groups. It’s just a complete misreading of what’s happening on the ground in the Middle East and how complicit we are in essentially fueling these kind of attacks.
DESVARIEUX: Even surveillance. Drones aside–.
HEDGES: Well, look. I mean, you have–part of the reason that this took place in Belgium, although we had, of course, a very large attack in France. But remember, that attack was planned. And I covered al-Qaeda after 9/11. I was based in Paris. And the French, who have a much more sophisticated internal security system than the Belgians, even then, there was an attempt to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Paris. And they broke the plot, but the fertilizer that was being packed inside the truck, it was a car bomb, was in a garage in Belgium.
So that’s been a long tradition, because the Belgians are just not as organized in terms of surveillance. And so these groups can operate more freely in Belgium so that they’ll often, you know, going back to many years, they will often plan their attacks, if they’re carrying them out in France, they will plan them and logistically prepare the ground in Belgium.
DESVARIEUX: But couldn’t that be an argument that, that’s why you need more surveillance. You need surveillance [to be] more organized.
HEDGES: Sure, you need surveillance. On the other hand, it isn’t going to stop the attacks. I mean, what is it that’s causing the attacks? And you know, the French have a pretty good surveillance system, and yet they suffered horrific attacks in Paris. And you know, some are going to slip through.
The difference between al-Qaeda, and it’s a big difference, and ISIS, is that al-Qaeda had very few foreign fighters, I mean, from outside the Middle East. It was largely a clan-based organization. It didn’t control territory the way ISIS controls Sirte and areas of Libya, parts of Syria and Iraq. And so this, you know, the control of territory has seen an infusion of 20,000-30,000 foreign fighters, 4,000-5,000 of whom carry European passports. And as we continue to, in essence, attempt to break ISIS through aerial bombardment and drones, those kind of things, we’re not attacking them on the ground, that, number one, gives an incentive to ISIS to strike back. But because they have so many people who can integrate back into Europe, it gives them the mechanism to strike back. And that’s what we’re seeing.
DESVARIEUX: And a lot of folks will say, where do you draw the line between surveillance and civil liberties, and what’s–.
HEDGES: Well, you know, we–even when I lived in France it was a police state. Yes, it becomes an excuse to strip us of, you know, what little kind of liberty we have left. We’re all, whether we’re Belgian or French or American or British, all under state surveillance that dwarfs anything ever dreamt of by the Stazi state in East Germany. And these kinds of terrorist attacks, you know, empower the state to take–you know, there’s not much more left that they can take. But to take what’s left, denial of habeus corpus, denial of due process.
So yes, it plays to the extreme. Their extreme, our extreme.
DESVARIEUX: Okay, Chris Hedges joining us in studio in Baltimore. Thank you so much for being with us.
And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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