Personal views from University of Bath researchers on the news of the day

Brussels Attacks

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📥  Public Policy, Society

The incidents at Brussels airport and on the Metro network there this morning ought to serve as a reminder that complete security is unachievable. Having made air-side at airports more challenging to reach, it was only a matter of time for terror attacks to focus on the passenger-side. Those who now talk of the need for better intelligence and even more security seem not to understand this displacement problem.

There can be no security solutions to social problems. But the Belgian PM, Charles Michel, has, like our own PM, David Cameron, sought to legislate his way out of problems in recent times. New laws allowing police raids and opposing hate speech match attempts here that focus more on preventing the assumed inevitable than understanding  its social origins and seeking to alter these through political leadership.

Belgium is different to the UK of course, but not that much so. It is divided between a French-speaking South and a Flemish-speaking North. Brussels in particular is also home to two significant international institutions – the EU and NATO – while having unemployment rates in excess of 30% in some districts. Accordingly, its identity is confused and contested, as are its organs of state, and this has led to a vacuum where its values and vision ought to be.

But young people there are the same as the world over. They want to feel that they belong to, and believe in, something. If the mainstream fails to offer this they will look elsewhere. What we see is not so much radicalisation as disengagement. Worse, those who ought to offer a lead, such as teachers, talk of avoiding engaging youth on subjects such as the Holocaust, for fear of causing offence or angering those in their charge.

This mainstream evacuation means that run-down districts, such as Molenbeek, with which several recent incidents – from Charlie Hebdo to the Paris attacks, as well as those on a Thalys train and now these – appear connected, suffer not so much from resentment and presumed grievances, as a lack of ambition and leadership by those in authority. The country from which more people go to join ISIS in Syria as a percentage of the population is now Belgium.

Going forwards, it will only be by addressing the social confusions of the mainstream that a solution will emerge.

Professor Bill Durodié is Head of the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies and Chair of International Relations at the University. His work focuses on risk, resilience, radicalisation and the politics of fear.

Listen to his inaugural lecture, now available as a podcast, on the politics of risk and resilience. 

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2 Responses to “Brussels Attacks”

  1. Stella. Yates on

    I read this with interest having lived in Brussels. However, I don't feel you are describing the country quite as it really is or was historically. Belgium has always accepted a mix of French and Flemish speakers without it representing any social problem. It's society has always been calm and peaceful and very noneventful to the point it was often the butt of jokes. Brussels did not have any obviously run down areas or distinctl social problems. Molembeek has become what it is through the settlement of migrants who have not integrated into the social norms and values of the existing city but rather recreated their own micro-society. You would find similar examples on other cities. So to represent Belgium as having some distinct social unrest that has a deep history,to my recognition,is very much a misrepresentation. I believe the reason it has been host to a collective number of terrorist training cells (or however the media describes it) is more probably due to the level of tolerance and acceptance of others within their society. People can chose the lifestyle they wish to adopt. There is also a growing number of people who question the true roots of terrorist attacks believing they are created deliberately to enable restrictions on civil liberties and the increase of powers of control over the population.

    • Bill Durodie on

      Thank you Stella. I had neither time nor space to elaborate upon my points. You may care to look at: http://www.politico.eu/article/belgium-failed-state-security-services-molenbeek-terrorism/ for evidence of the institutional consequences of the divisions there. You are right to say that these identities have lived side by side without conflict until now. The key transformation, in my mind, has been the collapse of principled party politics and its replacement by identity politics, which has started a race to the bottom of who can claim to be the most victimised group, primarily among more recent arrivals as you note, though this is set in the context of more long-standing conflicts. In that regards, we ought to ward against what Tony Blair described yesterday as 'flabby liberalism' in response. See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35862598. I do not subscribe to the conspiratorial belief you expand on at the end of your contribution. Rather, politicians and officials securitise society because it provides them with a project in an age when they have none. On this, you may care to explore some of my more substantial writings on these matters.


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