VOX asks Peter Neumann, a professor at King’s College London and the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation why Brussels seems to be at the center of IS activity in Europe. His response is fairly standard:
- “First, the country has an especially longstanding and well-organized network of radical Islamist recruiters, making it easier for people to join up there than in other European countries.”
- “Second, its police and intelligence agencies are epically undersized, making them incapable of dealing with the past five years’ massive surge in jihadist recruiting. The Belgian state, according to Neumann, mostly turned a blind eye to these problems. So it was “just a question of time until something happened.”
In Belgium, like in France and other countries in Europe, you have these areas in cities that have over the past years, if not decades, become migrant ghettos. You had a lot of issues with social/economic deprivation — the best example of that is Molenbeek, the part of [Brussels] where all these jihadists seem to be coming from.”
- Third, “…parts of Europe that have been completely abandoned by the state, by the authorities, by even Muslim communities. And for a long time, people were happy with that. They would be leaving us alone, and we would be leaving them alone.
But over the years, this situation festered. Jihadist structures took advantage of that, and basically go about their business almost unhindered. What happened after 2011-’12 is that groups like Sharia4Belgium — a prominent group — went into these places and very systematically recruited large numbers of people.”
Newsweek has a somewhat different take. The article argues a new generation of Jihadists have emerged in Europe:
- “Their knowledge of Islam is quite limited; they are more like jihadi hipsters than dedicated Islamists, or what some experts in the intelligence community call “jihadist cool.” They celebrate what the Dutch coordinator for security and counterterrorism called “pop-jihad as a lifestyle.”
- “These shallow Islamists have proved to be a challenge for European countries that use a traditional de-radicalization program for Muslims lured into the world of radical fundamentalists: It’s hard to re-educate people about Islam when they knew almost nothing to begin with. In what may be the most representative event depicting the nature of these new Islamist extremists, two British Muslims, both 22, purchased copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies in August 2014 just before they boarded a plane on the first leg of their trip to join ISIS fighters in Syria.”
- “These are youths who gather in groups, such as the recently dismantled Sharia4Belgium. They know less about Osama bin Laden than they do about Tupac Shakur; Belgians who travel to Syria to fight often revere the deceased American rapper on social media, identifying themselves with his lyrics about life in the inner cities. But these attackers also have their own rap music, hip clothes popular with young Muslims that are sold by companies like Urban Ummah and slogans akin to what might be found on a bumper sticker (“Work Hard, Pray Hard.”) Their tweets often end with terms like #BeardLife and #HijabLife.”
- In some respects, the Newsweek analysis is similar to that of VOX:
“Based on interviews with European Muslims returning from fighting in Syria, foreign intelligence agencies estimate that about 20 percent of them were diagnosed with mental illnesses before they left for the Middle East. A large percentage of them have prior records for both petty and serious crimes. And the vast majority of them come out of urban neighborhoods torn apart by economic hardship.”
The big difference is that this article focuses on local culture, local social networks and “Rambo-envy.”:
- “For foreign fighters the religious component in recruitment and radicalization is being replaced by more social elements such as peer pressure and role modelling,’’ said a January 18 report by Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, which deals with militant networks. “Additionally the romantic prospect of being part of an important and exciting development, apart from more private considerations, may play a role.”
This account would fit in well with the Feminist literature on how the formation of particular dysfunctional types of masculine identity leads to violence.
Finally, the Economist’s Daily Chart provides some statistics on attitudes toward Muslims in Europe. The graphic tells a sad tale of Islamaphobia: “an Ipsos-Mori poll in 2014 found that on average Belgian respondents thought 29% of their compatriots were Muslim. The actual figure is closer to 6%.”