Opinion Editorial
Terrorist Strikes and the Blame Game
By Peter Ahern

Inside the Burssels airport. ( Jef Varsele)
(AINA) -- Europe is counting the cost of the latest Islamist terrorist strikes. Two explosions at Zaventem airport in Brussels, with an accompanying explosion at Maelbeek metro station in the heart of the city, have left over 30 dead and dozens seriously injured. These events follow the Islamist terror attacks in Paris last November which killed 130 people. Both sets of attacks were carried out by Muslim radicals acting in support of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL).

In such circumstances, it is almost unimaginable that someone would blame the victims. Yet this has become something of a tradition in the wake of terrorist strikes taking place on an increasingly frequent basis across the continent of Europe.

Marginalised groups

Expressing this trend, former CNN correspondent now with Al-Jazeera, Mohammed Jamjoom, commented as follows within hours of the Belgian attacks: "Large segments of the populations in Europe, while they may have citizenship in the countries where they've been living most of their lives, they feel disenfranchised... This makes it much easier for groups like ISIL or other groups ... to recruit them to go to places like Syria perhaps to get training, then go back and plot attacks."

Mr Jamjoom argues that European policymakers have not sufficiently addressed this situation: "They've said in the past that they intend to have ... policies that are more inclusive. But the fact that these attacks keep happening kind-of shows that Europe hasn't been doing a good job at this."

Al-Jazeera is not alone in hosting such blame-the-victim commentary, nor is Mr Jamjoon alone in expressing it. A January 2015 report from leading news agency Reuters similarly suggests that ultimately Europeans are responsible for their own experience of terrorist strikes. This report gave voice to former Belgian justice minister, Laurette Onkelinx who said: "Despair is certainly one of the key explanations. When you are in despair, when you have no future, you are much easier prey to preachers of hatred." The report goes on to identify discrimination and the activities of so-called "far-right" political groups as contributing to the despair among Muslims.

Undoubtedly, there are marginalised groups in European countries, as there are in countries of the Middle East, Asia, the Americas and, indeed, everywhere. But European policymakers have long sought to address such marginalisation. Considerable funds have been allocated by both national governments and European Union agencies for affirmative action policies, to the advantage of diverse marginalised groups.

A European Parliament Report on cohesion policy and marginalised communities of 30 October 2015 defined marginalised communities as "diverse groups and individuals, such as minorities, Roma, people with disabilities, people living below the poverty line or at risk of poverty, migrants, refugees and socially excluded groups in society."

It is striking that of all the diverse groups identified as marginalised in this definition, certain groups of Muslims are alone in responding with terrorist attacks on civilian targets. Such extreme and coordinated violence cannot be found among Roma, people with disabilities, or non-Muslim people living below the poverty line or migrants.

So there are clear flaws in the argument that marginalisation on its own leads to despair, which in turn leads to terrorist training and action. This trajectory only seems to apply to marginalised Muslims.

The Molenbeek phenomenon and multicultural mistakes

European policymakers do indeed need to engage in soul-searching, but not for the reasons identified by Mr Jamjoom and similar commentators. Where these policymakers have made crucial mistakes is in the area of multicultural policy and social evolution.

European multicultural policies since the 1970s have embraced a hands-off approach, allowing the emergence of sub-culture ghettos which represent, in effect, transplanted communities from other countries. This certainly has its advantages in some cases, as can easily be seen by a restaurant outing to any of the Chinatowns that exist in cities throughout the West.

But Muslim ghettos pose special problems. The Brussels suburb of Molenbeek is a high density Muslim community, described by some commentators as a hotbed of jihadi radicalism. Molenbeek provided refuge to Paris attacker Salam Abdelsalam. It was the home of one of the 2004 Madrid train bombers, as well as of the gunmen who attempted to attack passengers on the Amsterdam-Paris train last April. The terrorist who murdered four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014 had also spent time in Molenbeek.

European policymakers need to tackle the formation of such Muslim ghettos. A hands-off approach is no longer tenable in this age of Islamist terrorist strikes. Europe's political elite needs to engage in a kind of social engineering that involves far greater integration of Muslim communities in Europe, dispersing Muslim families in majority non-Muslim neighbourhoods. This kind of intervention would also involve a close monitoring of sermons in mosques, as well as applying strict controls in issuing visas to potentially inflammatory speakers from the Muslim world. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees in Europe makes this task more difficult but at the same time much more urgent.

Europe should not blame itself for the terrorist strikes. Responsibility clearly lies with the Islamist groups who carry out these attacks. But European leaders need to take charge of their growing Muslim minority populations as a matter of great priority. They owe it to Europe's future generations.

Peter Ahern is a British freelance writer on religion, politics and society.


Views and opinions expressed in guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AINA.
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