Saturday, March 19, 2016


Abdeslam, Europe's most wanted fugitive after the Paris terrorist attacks, was finally located and arrested. The raid was fast and ,more  important, Abdeslam is in custody. He now has a sterling lawyer. After months of frustration and often unpleasant comments from abroad, the Belgian authorities finally got their act together.
Nevertheless, the time it took the Belgian police to get him is more remarkable than the arrest itself.  The episode shows the weakness of Belgian intelligence and counter-terrorism. Law enforcement is as divided as the country.  At a time when forces need to come together, there should not be room for competing smallish petty territorial jealousies. 

Brussels which hosts (often poorly) so many international organizations also scores badly in the control by CCTV surveillance.  There are more garden dwarfs than cameras!  The Belgians were helped by the French and other EU partners. They should learn from this bitter experience. The Brussels governance is a remnant of the past and should finally be sent to the shredder machine. I realize that too many parochial interests stand against a modern efficient apparatus and that international pressure might even backfire, but in an emergency only surgery works. One Bloomberg is better than 18 or so mayors. True, New York is an other world.

Abdeslam hid in Molenbeek, a Brussels borough which is considered by some as the continent's Gaza. This is unfair but the local authority has always been devoid of any sense of public relations or social engineering. It was interesting to see the photos of the many onlookers at the scene of the arrest. Only the police dog looked like a "native" Belgian.  The poor assimilation of first-generation immigrants is rendered all the more difficult since the ghetto syndrome only aggrandizes their common frustration, as could have been expected.  In this incoherent socio-urban situation in free-fall, only terrorism, support channels and infiltration strive.

Paradoxically, the Belgian Minister of the Interior belongs to the separatist Flemish ideology. Now he can measure the consequences of transferring too much power to constitutional partners who are too small. The EU can help but will never come up with a credible answer (see immigration).  There is a need for more Belgium than for less!  I defended this ten years ago in my little essay TRACES.  Devolution is a useful, very contemporary tool where and when it can be applied without further weakening the patient. The principle of subsidiarity can act as reference. Limbs are a bad policy tool.

The Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, is obviously a personality with the right political instinct. His coalition formula might be the better one in economic and financial matters but the constitutional pause that was achieved for the duration of his government might not survive his four-year mandate. The Flemish nationalists might take up their confederate mantle again and further reduce the powers of the federal state. In the present and, unfortunately, in foreseeable circumstances this would be a most unwelcome development.

Now a lot is said about Abdeslam. I hope the individual under arrest will not distract from the many hundreds who plot. He had better be extradited soon to France. Furthermore, the Molenbeek and French banlieux syndrom both need to be addressed rather than continue to be ignored. Jihadism and Salafism go hand-and-hand with petty crime in "no go" zones. The secular, more wealthy environment only aggravates the negative, since the positive looks unattainable. There is a need for "crative Society architects" who can try to reverse, adapt, diversify, and encourage free-enterprise and investment. They need unrestricted space. The question in Belgium is whether the little bourgeois politicians can give up their small backyards for a larger, longer view!

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