Ethnic and bureaucratic fault lines have made effective governance of the country almost impossibleby David Patrikarakos / March 22, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: What next for Molenbeek?
When terrorists struck Brussels this morning the act was as symbolic as it was destructive. The city is a pleasant, if slightly dull, capital of a minor European country, but as the seat of the European Union’s most powerful institutions it is in many ways the modern heart of Europe.
And this heart was struck hard. According to the latest reports bombs went off at Zaventem airport at 7am (GMT), killing 11 and injuring 81, while another struck Maelbeek metro station an hour later, killing around 20. A third bomb was found and destroyed. In the late afternoon Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement on the IS-linked Amaq agency. Charles Michel, Belgium’s Prime Minister, called it a “day of tragedy, a black day.”
A tragedy it undoubtedly was, the question is: was it surprising? Belgium first experienced jihadist terrorism in May 2014 when a gunman (who had recorded a video in which he appeared with the IS flag) opened fire at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels and murdered four people.
Then came the Paris terror attacks of November last year, which, it emerged, were planned in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, an area long known to intelligence agencies as hotbed of radicalisation. By some estimates, relative to its population Belgium has supplied more fighters to Syria than any other European country. It has a 11 million citizens, and 450 of them have travelled there.
Not all of this is unique to Belgium, though. Britain of course experienced its own terrorist atrocities on 7th July bombings in 2005 and, as a lead player in the War on Terror, is almost certainly at greater risk than Belgium from jihadist violence. But in this country we benefit from two things. First is the blessing of geography: being an island makes it harder…