When there is no healthy sense of national identity or commonly valued institutions, people inevitably start looking for different groups or subcultures to belong to. We should not be surprised that some turn to radical Islam
Why is one neighbourhood in Brussels rapidly becoming Europe’s chief exporter of homegrown terrorists, the Silicon Valley of Islamist extremism?
Daniel Hannan gives the most convincing answer by admitting something that many others have been furiously ignoring – that Belgium is essentially a “failed state”. It may be an advanced economy and home to the EU bureaucracy, but there is no real sense of national unity for first or second generation immigrants to embrace. And this lack of shared identity provides the fertile ground where extremism inevitably grows.
When Americans are afflicted by terrorism, they fly their flag. When Paris was violated, it turned red, white and blue. But in Belgium, you rarely see the national tricolor except on a state building.
Perhaps there is a connection between this lack of national feeling and the readiness with which several second-generation Belgians turn against their adopted country. Many Western European states have disaffected immigrant populations, but none has sent such a high proportion of its nationals to Syria. Molenbeek, the dreary quartier where most of the Paris murderers were raised, is Europe’s jihadi capital.
All human beings crave a sense of belonging. When they get no such sense from their nation, they cast around for more assertive identities. And what could be more assertive, more self-confident, than the monstrous cult of Islamic State?
And goes on to explain why this is a particular problem in Belgium:
The problem is especially severe in Belgium because Belgium is, so to speak, a mini-EU, a multi-national state whose political system is held together largely by public spending. There is no Belgian language, no Belgian culture, no Belgian history. The country is divided between a Dutch-speaking north, containing some 60 per cent of the population, and a French-speaking south. The two communities read separate newspapers, watch separate TV, vote for separate parties. To adapt René Magritte, one of those elusive famous Belgians, ceci n’est pas un pays.
[..] Unsurprisingly, the two communities have turned in on themselves. But where does this leave, say, a Moroccan-origin boy in Molenbeek? What is there for him to be part of? Neither Flemish nor Walloon, his every interaction with the Belgian state will have taught him to despise it. If he got any history at all in school, it will have been presented to him as a hateful chronicle of racism and exploitation. Is it any wonder that he is in the market for something stronger, more assertive?
The frightening thing here is that as goes Belgium, so will go the rest of Europe – at least if the master planners of European unity have their way. They have long regarded the nation state and patriotism as something gauche and vaguely embarrassing, and longed for the time when national identities and borders ceased to matter. Belgium’s unique circumstances mean that they are slightly further along the road to oblivion than the rest of us, having not had a very solid or cohesive identity even before the European Union. But the same forces are at work in France and Germany and Sweden and Britain, too.
If there is no sense of common identity and purpose in a country, soon it will begin to fracture into an angry group of competing special interests and subcultures, each jostling for favour and becoming increasingly hostile to one another. Only last year, we saw how decades of failing to inculcate a sense of Britishness nearly led to Scotland voting to leave the union. And those kind of consequences are the best case scenario.
The worst case scenario – if we do not get serious about promoting and celebrating our values – is that we see more and more Paris style attacks, committed by people who went to school with us and who carry the same passports as us, but feel absolutely no connection or affinity with us.
We fail to promote and defend British, Western and enlightenment ideas at our peril.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty