Fear and loathing in the heart of Europe

Tinderbox: One Dutch analyst says the police have ‘very little grip’ in parts of Brussels. © PA

In the wake of another terror attack there is a renewed focus on failures of intelligence. But when the enemy lives freely in our midst, should not liberal democracy itself be under fire?

‘A war scene.’

That was how Zach Mouzoun described Brussels airport at 8:00am yesterday. ‘The ceilings collapsed. There was blood everywhere, injured people, bags everywhere.’

Two bombs had exploded. An hour later, another went off at a metro station near the EU buildings in the city.

Last night, more than 30 people were dead. Daesh had claimed responsibility.

Brussels resident Tim King said citizens had ‘sensed’ an imminent attack. A higher proportion of Belgians has fought for jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria than from any other European country.

And last Friday, police arrested Salah Abdeslam in the city’s suburb of Molenbeek. Abdeslam, a suspect in November’s attacks in Paris, had hidden there for 120 days. It was the fourth time in two years that counter-terrorism officers had focused on the district after an attack.

Nearly 100,000 people live in Molenbeek. Some parts are densely populated and have high unemployment levels; elsewhere, its middle class and commercial lives are strong.

In places, 90% of its population is Muslim. In these areas, Belgian intelligence expert Claude Moniquet says, ‘there is no interaction with other communities’. This — and officials letting ‘the bad guys do as they wanted’ — has created ‘the possibility of a place to hide for terrorists’.

Some residents contest this. But Adam Deen, from anti-extremist organisation Quilliam, says Wahhabism — an intolerant form of Islam promoted by Saudi Arabia — spreads easily in such areas.

‘The default position is Wahhabism or a varied form of it,’ he says. ‘This creates a sense of alienation from the place you were born and brought up.’

In contrast, Western liberalism promotes secularism and values such as free speech, tolerance and women’s rights. These are derived from 18th-century Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire, Rousseau and Wollstonecraft.

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair said yesterday the West should promote these ideas more robustly. ‘This culture of hate is taught,’ he said. ‘If you don’t attack the ideology you’ll never defeat the violence.’

Time to take a stand?

‘We’ve allowed the concept of multiculturalism to be abused,’ added Blair. An open culture cannot co-exist with one which swears enmity to it. Westerners must take a hard line on mosques or preaching which promote Wahhabism. Free societies are the envy of the world and they should be defended confidently.

Critics say this will destroy the very values that make our society so successful. Cultural differences cannot be overcome by force. Defending liberalism means allowing people to live as they wish and accepting difference, even among those who oppose your values.

You Decide

  1. Would you ever accept being asked to change your values?
  2. Should Western governments promote integration more forcefully in suburbs like Molenbeek?


  1. Draw a cartoon showing your response to the Brussels attacks. Use the last link under Become An Expert (to the Le Monde cartoon) if you need inspiration.
  2. Write a speech on behalf of the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, explaining how you plan to respond to the attacks. Will you vigorously assert secular values? Why, or why not?

Some People Say...

“Tolerance is a universal value.”

What do you think?

Q & A

This is a tragedy. But isn’t it just an isolated event?
Unfortunately there have been several terrorist attacks in Europe in recent months, and France and Belgium have borne the brunt of them. Daesh — which is currently the most feared jihadist group in the world — has declared plans to carry out attacks elsewhere. For now, the chances of dying in a terrorist attack remain very small — though some fear that could change if a group such as Daesh carried out something more spectacular.
Do the values held by other people really affect me?
People’s values inform the way they interact with you and the society around you. In a globalised world, you are likely to encounter people with very different values to you. The question is how far you think you should assert the things you believe in.

Word Watch

The jihadist group based in Iraq and Syria, also known as Islamic State.
In October, independent researcher Pieter Van Ostaeyen said 516 Belgians had fought in Iraq or Syria.
Committed to fight ‘holy war’ on behalf of Islam.
Searches were carried out after the Charlie Hebdo attack last January and an attempted shooting on a train in August. A man accused of attacking the Jewish museum in Brussels in 2014 also reportedly spent time there.
Regarded as the strictest form of Sunni Islam. It is based on an 18th-century attempt to return to the perceived fundamentals of Islam, reflecting the conduct of the Salafs in the faith’s earliest days.
Separation of religion and politics.
A defender of free speech, though the maxim ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ is probably a misquotation.
He said governments should make decisions based on the people’s ‘general will’.
Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
Blair spoke before the attacks.

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