Belgium’s Domestic and Foreign Policies Perpetuate Muslim Alienation
Elites ignore 25% youth unemployment and engage in reckless foreign policy, which has led to the rise of jihadism in Belgium, says Brussels-based journalist Gilbert Doctorow
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
It’s been a week since the attack on Brussels and the media is still asking, why did this happen in Brussels? Some speculate that this was negligence on the behalf of Belgian authorities, but our next guest takes a different angle and analyzes how the Belgian government has not tried hard enough to understand Sunni Muslims in Belgium.
Joining us now from Brussels to discuss all of this is Gilbert Doctorow. He is a journalist and he recently wrote a piece in consortiumnews.com titled, Why Belgium? The ugly truth behind the Brussels bombings. Thanks so much for joining us, Gilbert.
GILBERT DOCTOROW: My pleasure.
DESVARIEUX: So, Gilbert, first lay out for us how Muslims have a very high youth unemployment in Belgium, and how that compares to the larger population.
DOCTOROW: They have a high unemployment rate, but then so does the general population. This is one additional factor. When you’re dealing with a minority population who are not fully integrated they take it worse than the broader population, and they have fewer reserves to fall back on compared to the broader Belgian population.
The rate of unemployment here is, for youths is something on the order of 25 percent and it has been that way not just since the 2008 general world crisis. It’s been that way for more than two decades. It’s quite shocking, and it demonstrate that the powers that be here in the Brussels area have been unable to focus on and to do much about the needs of working class people. They’ve done a great deal to create high-paying professional employment in growth sectors like pharmaceuticals, like computerization and communications, and also in international institutions that are based here in Belgium like the NATO headquarters and the European Union.
These all provide very good, upper middle class employment, but little or nothing has been done to whittle away at the unemployment of youths. This, for the general population, I say is very unfortunate, and it leads to enormous and visible anti-social behavior. We have graffiti all over the city. We have beggars on every street corner. All this is very unattractive and is, so, generally overlooked by the tourists who come through on the hop-in, hop-on, hop-off buses, but it’s the reality of Belgium.
DESVARIEUX: Gotcha. Another key point you raise is that Belgium, they sent one fighter jet to the Libya campaign to oust Gaddafi, you write, quote, that the military value of this contribution was negligible, but the damage done to domestic peace in Belgium was vast. What do you mean by that? How did it damage domestic peace?
DOCTOROW: Well, this type of phenomenon is called blowback, and it is not only in Belgium but it is in Belgium and we’re talking about Belgium today. If it were only one incident one could begin to excuse it, but it wasn’t just the campaign against Gaddafi in Libya.
Let’s go, you have to go back to the turn of the millennium. Each American-led or American-inspired campaign in North Africa and in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, has attracted a significant participation of the Belgian armed forces, whether it’s fighter jets or other troops. The point is that this was visible, it was known to the Muslim community and it was greatly resented. And it appears, to the best of my knowledge, that the government has done little or nothing to find compromises or to hear out the anger and the objections of the Muslim minority.
DESVARIEUX: But Gilbert, there are going to be some folks that point out that that anger that you mentioned, that’s not going anywhere, because you’re going to have extremists no matter where you go in Western civilization, so I sort of want to highlight the argument that historian Samuel Huntington makes, is that this is really a product of a clash of civilizations. What do you make of that?
DOCTOROW: Well I don’t see a clash of civilizations here in Belgium. In fact, the greater Belgian population consider themselves quite lucky to have this particular Muslim community in its midst compared to the Muslim communities in, particularly in France where their Muslim populations, which are similar in scale to Belgium’s, are largely Algerian and they came to France bringing with them resentments and a great deal of historical baggage coming out of the colonization of Algeria by the French and then the long, bitter and murderous war of liberation which the Algerians fought to get their independence.
There are no such resentments in the Moroccan population in Belgium. They were never colonized, and they came and were generally productive members of the community. We see them in many different roles. They’re not necessarily professionals or high employees, though that also exists. You cannot miss them every day you go to work. Whether it’s the tram driver or it’s the cleaning lady or it is one of the other municipal services here in Brussels, they’re employed, or very commonly they are shopkeepers.
I live in downtown Brussels. I live at the edge of various ethnic communities. Right next to me is a Portuguese community which [is] rather large in Brussels, and just next to that is a Moroccan community. Our fish sellers are Moroccans. Our green grocers are Moroccans. And Belgians, we’re quite happy to have these people as neighbors. What was not clear is that there is within this population a certain violent minority. They’ve been encouraged by the Saudis, who financed mosques with propagandizing the Salafite, the Wahhabi extremist views, but this wouldn’t necessarily be threatening and it wouldn’t necessarily have led to the tragedy that we saw last week if Belgium had an effective government.
DESVARIEUX: You also highlighted [inaud.] that there’s some basic linguistic divisions happening here, and the role in how Muslims are viewed in Belgium, that linguistically there’s this tension. Can you explain a little bit more about that?
DOCTOROW: Well, 45 percent of the Belgian population is French-speaking. Fifty-five percent is Dutch-speaking. Dutch because of the Netherlands next to us and French because of France next to us. But Belgium combines these two nations, if you want to call it that, and in order to ensure that there would be fair representation in the offices of government on a freely elected basis, considering that one population is permanently a minority, they put in place various very progressive and well-intentioned mechanisms to assign power to the minority.
That’s all well and good, but in practice that means that [inaud.] at the cabinet, at the federal level and at the regional level of governments, because we have three regions in this country, they are obliged to distribute seats and ministerial portfolios keeping in mind the linguistic as well as the political coloration of the population at large. It so happens that the French-speaking part is largely socialist and the Flemish-speaking part is largely center-right with a certain nostalgia for Margaret Thatcher’s type of liberal economic policies.
So you have a four-way pull. In most countries you have a two-way pull between right and left. Here you have a four-way pull between right and left, and French and Dutch. And when they find their compromises and distribute power there’s no longer a program of government. The program of government comes down to holding power and enjoying the spoils of power, and the ministerial portfolios are rotated.
You see the same faces year after year. Prime ministers come and go but the ministerial portfolios remain in the same hands, so you have the complacent elite that isn’t able or ready to face up to threats, and now with this jihadist, terrorist presence in Belgium, and it’s here precisely because the government is weak and they know that they’re, that the justice system is a revolving door, in this context the country is ill-equipped to look after the safety of citizens.
DESVARIEUX: All right, then what would you recommend then, Gilbert? What does the administration have to do?
DOCTOROW: Well, let’s come to the immediate issue that [we] raised at the beginning. It has to reconsider its foreign policy. The Belgian army is a small army, and a very large part of it is now being deployed to keep order in the capital city. This is an absurd situation. The necessity to maintain order is a result of very bad foreign policy decisions. The go along and get along foreign policy that we have, doing, falling into lockstep with what the big neighbors do, particularly with what NATO does, is something that the country of Belgium can no longer afford.
They also can no longer afford a social employment policy which has produced such miserable results for working class people in the city of Brussels. If it addresses these two things we’d be well on our way, but it also has to do with policing, effective policing, and if has to do with community outreach.
One of the most shocking things that came up last week on the 18th, well, just before last week on the 18th of March when there was a siege that resulted in the capture of Europe’s most wanted man, one of the terrorists who was based here in Molenbeek in the center of Brussels, and who had been a ringleader in the attacks in Paris last November. He was finally caught after being four years on the run.
Well, he didn’t run very far. In point of fact he was found 400 yards from the apartment house where he last had his residence. And this type of security, for him personally, was possible because the community supported him, and that became clear during the Euronews television coverage of the siege. A very clever cameraman swiveled his camera around and showed us a lineup of matronly Muslim women wearing North African garb who were waving their fists in anger at the police and at the cameras. This created quite a disturbance within the managers at Euronews because it’s not politically correct. They were showing a Muslim population that is enraged by the potential capture of this terrorist. That issue has to be addressed. It can no longer be swept under the carpet. Our complacent government has to get serious.
DESVARIEUX: All right, Gilbert Doctorow. Thank you so much for joining us there in Brussels.
DOCTOROW: A pleasure.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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