Belgium: How Low Can a Low Country Get?
- French journalist Éric Zemmour facetiously suggested that France should forget about bombing Raqqa and should instead bomb Molenbeek.
- Even the New York Times, of all places, ran an exposé about the ineffectiveness of Belgium’s anti-terror efforts, pointing up the chronic laxity, buck-passing, and turf-confusions that characterize every level of its government.
- Shut up. Zip it. It is a pathetic and cowardly way of responding to reality, but it is, alas, a widespread behavior pattern in Western Europe today – and, at least in certain milieux in poor little Belgium, it has been all but raised to a sacrament.
In the 15 years that followed the Napoleonic Wars, a messy series of events — international conferences, great-power land swaps, treaties, riots, military skirmishes, and, finally, a brief revolution — resulted in a redrawing of borders in the Low Countries and the establishment of a new country called Belgium. Even in the best of times, it was hardly a country, fatally divided into a French-speaking south and a Flemish-speaking north, whose residents had little sense of shared identity. If, when the European Union came along, the Belgians embraced the idea so ardently — and welcomed the transformation of their own capital into the capital of the EU — it was largely because they had far less of a sense of nationhood than their Western European neighbors, and felt, or hoped, that the EU would artificially supply something ineffable that their own history and culture had failed to give them.
Even now, when the citizens of many Western European countries have been brought up to be ashamed of their national flags, some of these Europeans, at least, still exhibit intermittent signs of national pride: witness the crowds across the UK who, every year, sing “God Save the Queen”, “Jerusalem”, and “Land of Hope and Glory” during the broadcast of the Last Night of the Proms, or the spectacle of the French Parliament breaking spontaneously into “La Marseillaise” after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Such displays are few and far between in Belgium. It seems appropriate that, while the official proportions of the Belgian flag are 13:15, most of the flags flown over government buildings are 2:3. In other words, they do not even bother getting the proportions of their own flag right.
It has often been pointed out that if Muslims in the West are more passionately devoted to their own religion, culture, and values than Western infidels are to the principles that undergird their own civilization, then that civilization is doomed to fail. In the face of the Islamic threat, of course, there is reason to be worried about pretty much every nation in Western Europe; but given the strange hollowness of Belgian identity, Belgium is a place of special concern. It is not only the location of the headquarters of the EU; it is, to quote the headline of a March 23, 2016, article by Soeren Kern for Gatestone Institute, “Why Belgium is Ground Zero for European Jihadis.” As it happens, Kern’s article appeared the day after members of ISIS in Brussels committed three suicide bombings, killing 32 people (not counting three terrorists) and injuring more than 300.
Four months before that, 137 lives were lost in terrorist attacks on the Bataclan Theater and other targets in Paris. The perpetrators were soon traced back to Molenbeek, a majority-Muslim neighborhood in Brussels.
“There is almost always a link with Molenbeek,” commented Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. Stefan Frank noted that Molenbeek “is considered Europe’s ‘terrorist factory.'” And French journalist Éric Zemmour facetiously suggested that France should forget about bombing Raqqa and should instead bomb Molenbeek.
|Riot police guard a road in the Molenbeek district of Brussels, after raids in which several people, including Salah Abdeslam, one of the perpetrators of the November 2015 Paris attacks, were arrested on March 18, 2016. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)|
Even the New York Times, of all places, ran an exposé about the ineffectiveness of Belgium’s anti-terror efforts, pointing up the chronic laxity, buck-passing, and turf confusions that characterize every level of its government.
Of course, terrorism is only the most sensational aspect of the Islamic influx into Belgium. In December, Belgian author Drieu Godefridi wrote of Brussels as a city “rapidly descending into chaos and anarchy.” November alone saw “three separate outbreaks of rioting and looting on a major scale,” exposing the fact that “lawlessness… is the new normal in Brussels.” Soldiers patrol the streets, but dare not act: “should a soldier actually hurt a looter, he would probably be publicly chastised, pilloried by the media, put on trial and dishonorably discharged.” When, during a TV debate, one of the nation’s few straight-talking politicians tried to address the obvious connection between this rampant disorder and immigration, “the moderator literally yelled at him that ‘Migration is not the subject…. MIGRATION IS NOT THE SUBJECT, STOP!'” and then handed the floor over to a “slam poet” in an Islamic veil who attributed the city’s problems to its failure to welcome people like herself with open arms. “The audience was then instructed to applaud her.”
Given all this, it should not be surprising that one of the more prominent voices in Belgium today is that of a foundation, established in 2014, that goes by the name Ceci n’est pas une crise (CNPC, “This is not a crisis” — a deliberate reference to the famous painting Ceci n’est pas un pipe by Belgium’s most famous artist, René Magritte.) Is Belgium in trouble? Is Brussels a hellhole? Is Molenbeek the ninth circle of hell? Au contraire …
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About the author
Bruce Bawer is the author of the new novel The Alhambra (Swamp Fox Editions). His book While Europe Slept (2006) was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.
Featured image courtesy of Teun Voeten