Monday, November 23, 2015

November 23, 2015--Why Belgium?

I have been wondering why, when learning more about terroristic activity in France and other incidents in Europe, all roads appear to lead to Belgium.

From my two or three visits, I remember Belgians to be peaceful and civilized, to naive me best known for excellent cooking, Leffe beer, memorable art towns including Bruges and Ghent, and of course their silky Neuhaus chocolates.

But a haven for terrorists? The place from which barbaric attacks on Paris and other European targets are planned and organized?

Clearly my interest in Hieronymus Bosch's horrific triptych, the brilliant Last Judgement in the Groeninge Museum in Bruges and litres of Leffe, have blocked my understanding of what is going on there beyond the surface of what visitors experience.

But then toward the end of last week a piece online from the Associated Press, "Paris Attacks Rooted in Brussels," helped explain things--

To quote the director of the Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism, "Terrorists do shop around for locations where it's easier to be unnoticed." And for that Belgium qualifies.

It shares a long border with France, a favorite venue for terrorists, with few if any controls and the population pretty much speaks French as its first language.

Laws controlling weapons are by European standards lax and largely unenforced so it is "easy," says a professor of criminology at Ghent University, "to get your hands on heavy arms in Brussels."

Austerity measures have led to severe cutbacks in funding for police and the justice system and this has contributed to disarray in government bureaucracies, law enforcement agencies, and the ability to keep track of potential terrorists.

Making matters worse, much worse, is the fact that central Belgium, where planning for terrorist acts thrive, with a population of about 1.0 million, is divided into 19 separate municipalities and six uncoordinated policing zones. Therefore, police in one zone are not allowed to track suspects into neighboring ones much less across the border into France.

New York City, in contrast, with a population of 8.4 million has one police force and one integrated court system.

Thus, to quote the AP, in Belgium, "extremist ideology has been allowed to thrive due to police neglect."

And then further compounding the enforcement challenge, with a total population of 11.2 million, living in Belgium there are 650,000 unintegrated Muslins.

What a deadly mess.

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