Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why Has Brussels Become The Terrorist Capital Of Europe?

Is it really the terrorist capital?

From the director of UC Berkeley's Institute of European Studies:
Belgium has a sad record. With some 450 jihadists, it is Europe’s largest contributor per capita of ISIS fighters in Syria. The country has also been mentioned in connection to a series of recent ISIS attacks: In May 2014, a returned jihadist from Syria opened fire at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. In January 2015, two suspected jihadists were shot by the police in the city of Verviers. In August 2015, two members of the U.S. military stopped a jihadist attacker who had boarded a train in Brussels.
Business Insider offers similar statistics  and then goes on:
Muslim immigrants are not well integrated into Belgian society despite decades of immigration there from countries like Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey, and Algeria. 
While Muslim Belgians make up only 4% to 6% of the country’s population, some politicians say their very presence threatens the Belgian way of life. 
Wearing a face veil can earn you a $200 fine in Belgium, and far-right anti-immigrant political groups have achieved healthy levels of support. 
Vlaams Belang, a Flemish political party that has advocated deporting Muslim immigrants who don’t renounce their faith, has achieved upward of 20% of the vote in some regional elections.
When I was a student in Germany back in the mid-60's one rarely ever saw a dark-skinned person.  Well, not unless you include Italians and Greeks as dark-skinned.  They were in Germany as guest workers because after the war, Germany had a shortage of men to work in the factories.  Then came Turks.  These folks, originally, were expected to return to their countries when the work was done.  But things don't work out the way you planned.

The rest of northern Europe had varying degrees of guest workers.  Some had immigrants from former colonies after liberation of the those colonies.  In any case, all these countries were relatively homogenous before all this.  I say relatively because there were Jews, Gypsies, and other stray populations.  And, of course, Switzerland is divided into three different language groups.

And the Belgians, even before 'others' came, were divided among the Flemish speakers and the French speakers.  The linguistic disagreements spilled over into policy disagreements and after the June 2010 election, it took 540 days for the Belgians to form a government.

My sense from the visits I've had in Belgium coincides with the Business Insider quote about poor integration.  This is true, of course, of the other European countries with large Muslim populations, but Belgium seems even worse.  Some may stem from the fact that the Flemish and the Walloons (French speakers) already don't get along that well and they don't have time for getting to know and understand their new citizens.  Instead the immigrants end up in ghettoes and feel unwelcome.  Ripe for recruitment.

It's tricky using US standards to judge what's happening in European nations.  Our history of race relations - from Native Americans, to African-Americans, to Japanese-Americans, and Latin-Americans - is pretty dismal and we have hundreds of years of history.

Original photos (bf) from Daily Mail  and (wf) here.
But this looks bad.  Again, most whites in the US know very clearly that blackface is insulting and demeaning.  I don't know the context in Belgium.   For them things we would consider blatant racism is stuff that they might think, "Oh, I didn't know that was offensive."  That, of course, is the case for more subtle things in the US, like telling someone with Asian features how good their English is (without considering that they might be native-born Americans.)   That's my short preface on this picture I photoshopped and the story below of the Belgian foreign minister, Didier Rehnders from last March.

From Al Jazeera
"Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders appeared in blackface at an annual folklore festival in Brussels on Saturday, causing an international media storm that put a spotlight on the country's race relations and led to calls for the former colonial power to grapple with its bloody history.
Dressed as an “African notable,” according to the City of Brussels, Reynders tweeted a picture of himself at the Noirauds event, a yearly festival dating back to 1876. At the rally, Belgium’s wealthy citizens don top hats, ruffs and blackface — all under the eye of Belgium’s Queen Paola, who presides over Les Noirauds, or The Blacks. The country’s elite collect money for disadvantaged children and a kid's trip to the circus.
 The images quickly circulated around the world after French broadcaster France2 reported on the event, noting that the tradition’s imagery could appear racist but that this didn’t dissuade Reynders from taking part.
 The minister told the broadcaster it was “a very enjoyable experience” to participate in the folkloristic tradition while raising money for the children. “I think that’s what counts most today,” he said."  [emphasis added]
Hey, it's just folklore, nothing racist.  Just imagine John Kerry showing up in blackface and saying it's just folk tradition.

So what folk tradition?  From an NBC story which says that Black Pete helps Saint Nicholas at Christmas time.  His picture on merchandise greatly boosts sales.  You know how touchy some American Christians get about tinkering with their Christmas traditions.  Here's from the NBC report:
Traditionalists say Black Pete is just part of an innocent children's holiday which also includes singing songs, exchanging poems, gifts and spending time with family. Some even say he only appears Black because he was covered in soot when he came down the chimney bearing gifts. For them, it is in no way associated with slavery or racism. 
However, those against the tradition quickly point out that the character comes from the 19th century children's book "Saint Nicholas and His Servant," in which the servant, Black Pete is described as a Black Moor from Spain. While Black Pete may be part of Dutch folklore, his portrayal is part of historically negative stereotypes of Black people dating back to colonialism.  [emphasis added]
And Belgium's history of colonialism is particularly nasty.  The Belgians were late getting colonies. In part because Belgium didn't gain its independence from Holland until 1830.  According to Wikipedia the Belgians tried to make a deal to colonize Hawaii, but that fell through.
"Colonial rule in the Congo began in the late 19th century. King Leopold II of Belgium, frustrated by his nation's lack of international power and prestige, tried to persuade the government to support colonial expansion around the then-largely unexplored Congo Basin. Their ambivalence resulted in Leopold's creating a colony on his own account. With support from a number of Western countries, who viewed Leopold as a useful buffer between rival colonial powers on the Continent, Leopold achieved international recognition for a personal colony, the Congo Free State, in 1885."
And as I said, King Leopold's rule was particularly brutal.

Excerpted from History Today:
Leopold’s hell operated by an insane logic. Villages were set quotas of rubber and the gendarmerie were sent in to collect it – a process that was sped up by looting, arson and rape. If a village failed to reach its quota hostages would be taken and shot. To ensure that the gendarmerie didn’t waste their bullets hunting for food, they were required to produce the severed hands of victims. As a consequence a trade in severed hands developed among the villagers and those police that couldn’t reach their quotas. . . 
. . . Sheppard, a Presbyterian missionary, recalled in his diary passing by more than a dozen burned villages. He was taken to the headquarters of a gendarmerie recruit called Mlumba Nkusa, described by Sheppard as ‘a most repulsive looking man’ because his teeth were filed into sharp points, his eyebrows were shaven and his eyelashes plucked out. Leopold had demanded that Mlumba collect 60 slaves and a huge amount of rubber, but only eight slaves and 2,500 balls of rubber had been gathered. ‘I think we killed between 80 and 90,’ said Mlumba of the local workers. He took Sheppard to a hut reserved for the rape of hostages and to another for the preservation of collected hands. Sheppard counted 81 hands hanging over the fire. The Congolese horror ended when international outrage compelled the Belgian state to take control of the colony in 1908. Estimates for the number of people killed range between two and 15 million, easily putting Leopold in the top ten of history’s mass murderers. When he died in 1909 the king’s funeral cortege was booed. Conceptually Leopold’s reign of terror was a bridge between the imperialism of the 19th century and the totalitarianism of the 20th.  [emphasis added]

Belgium is the home of the EU.  It's a modern country in many ways.  Its people are educated.  But on these issues, apparently not well-educated.  It has a bloody colonial history and its elite seem to be clueless about their immigrants' cultures and needs.   There's nothing here for Americans to get smug about since Americans are mostly unaware of their white privilege and bristle when it's pointed out.  American blacks are better integrated into our society.  They breast-fed and raised the kids of slave owners.  Yet they still get treated horribly by our justice system.  More horribly than others.

None of this is intended to excuse, in any way, ISIS terrorist attacks.  But I'm guessing that if immigrants to Belgium were treated with respect and helped to become part of Belgian culture, they wouldn't find ISIS recruiters so tempting.  But when the Flemish and the French in Belgium still take 540 days to agree on forming a government, it's understandable why they don't get along better with their immigrants.

And that doesn't mean that warm, hospitable treatment of each immigrant would eliminate every extremist among  their Muslim population.  After all, there are extremists among Christians and among Jews as well.  (And other religions too.)  I suspect you'll find, among these folks, a number of people using fundamental religion as a cover for whatever social and mental issues they have.

Note:  I'm not an expert on Belgium.  Over the last twenty years or so, I've been to Brussels maybe five times - for professional conferences and to visit a first cousin of my father.  I've done some googling to check my acquired knowledge.  I've also spent time talking to people about immigrant issues in Germany, both Muslims and ethnic Germans.  And I've looked around the internet to supplement what I know, also double checking the facts I've found to make sure I'm not quoting some  outliers nobody else agrees with.

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