International journalist Roger Cohen claims that Belgium has lost control of Molenbeek. In an opinion article in International New York Times (12 April), the well-known journalist writes that we can say “goodbye” to the once sleepy Brussels.
The Islamic State has established “a base for its murderous designs” in the capital of Europe. “Splintered Belgium” has lost control of Molenbeek.
According to Cohen, jihadists love a “vacuum”, as Syria demonstrates, and Belgium as a state is as close to a vacuum as Europe offers these days. This is a result of the “dysfunctional” Belgian state and its public administration.
“The administrative breakdown” assumes critical proportions in Molenbeek, the second-poorest commune in the country, with 36 % of people younger than 25 unemployed.
Dilution of responsibility
The mishmash of functions on federal, regional and municipal levels resulted also in a dilution of responsibility.
The newspaper writes about Philippe Moureaux who was mayor in Molenbeek during 1993 – 2012, a crucial period when young people started to become exposed to an extremist jihadist ideology.
When asked why he did not react against extremists in his commune, he replied that he considered this the responsibility of the Belgian federal security service, not of municipal officials like himself.
Sarah Turine, a member of the Green Party, is the official in charge of youth, social cohesion and intercultural dialogue in Molenbeek. In an interview in EurActiv (30 March) she said that “to reach out to the most marginalised young people in society, we need street workers.”
“We have about 30 of these workers, but that is not nearly enough to cover the large area of this commune. Here we have 17,000 young people between 12 and 25 years old, so to do a good job, we need at least another ten street workers.”
Cohen claims that Molenbeek is just the most acute manifestation of a European failure. There are near-ghettos in or around many European cities. He also refers to the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, who recently warned that an extremist minority is “winning the ideological and cultural battle” within French Islam.
Similar conclusions can be found in a recent study by Rik Coolsaet, professor in international relations at Ghent University.
The study – “Facing the Fourth Foreign Fighters Wave: What drives Europeans to Syria and to the Islamic State? Insights from the Belgian case”- was published in March 2016 before the terror attacks in Brussels.
In his paper he reminds the readers about the riots that took place in Molenbeek in 1991. According to local inhabitants, the riots “were born out of desperation about lacking prospects in a neighborhood characterized by poor job prospects, bad housing and deficient education.”
If the riots then could be seen as a cry for help, it was not heard by the authorities. Since 1991 the situation has rather deteriorated. New generations are now growing up, the grand children of the “guest workers” who arrived in Belgium in the early 1960s.
“As in 1991, a core among them has withdrawn into parallel worlds of illegal activities and delinquency.” They do not see themselves as citizens of Belgium and fall easily victims of the jihadist propaganda.
Rosengården in Malmö
Another example of a “migration ghetto” is Rosengården in Malmö, a city in southern Sweden. One of the persons captured in Brussels last Friday (8 April), suspected for involvement in the terror attack in Maelbeek metro station, was a Swedish citizen from Rosengården.
According to Swedish media, only last December did the authorities launch a local action plan to counter radicalization in Rosengården, despite early warnings.
Vacuums are dangerous, concludes Roger Cohen his article. “The answer is a reformed, reinvigorated and stronger Europe, not the kind of division that produced Molenbeek.”