News You Really Need To See: “Molenbeek, Belgium’s ‘Jihad Central'”

“Molenbeek, Belgium’s ‘Jihad Central'”

The New York Times, November 19, 2015

The shocking and bloody attacks in Paris on Friday, Nov. 13, left a trail leading to France’s small northern neighbor, Belgium — more precisely to its capital, Brussels, and to a specific district, Molenbeek.  Here, weeds line the sidewalks and dilapidated buildings stand next to modest houses, like a few rotten teeth that were never pulled or fixed.  In this down-at-the-heels but vibrant borough of nearly 100,000 people, about 40 percent are Muslims, and about three-quarters of them are of Moroccan origin or ancestry.  This community dates back to the 1960s, when a demand for labor led to a wave of immigration from Morocco. … Molenbeek was originally a factory district located at a nexus of canals and railways in Brussels — known as ‘Little Manchester’ because of the concentration of industry.  Eventually, the factories closed, and Molenbeek became a working-class residential area — and a home to new immigrants… But Molenbeek is also home to terrorist plotters.  The assassination of the Afghan anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, immediately before the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001; the train bombings in Madrid in 2004; and the killing of four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum in 2014.  And just this year the foiled shooting on a high-speed train, the anti-terrorist raid in the eastern Belgian town of Verviers, the attack on a Paris kosher supermarket and, finally, the Nov. 13 attacks on the French capital — all had some connection to Molenbeek.  What makes Molenbeek such a hotbed for Islamist radicalism?  The most obvious reason is the deep divisions in Belgian society. … This also leads to administrative dysfunction…Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Brussels itself, which is governed like a small city-state — with 19 districts, each with its own mayor, and six police authorities, which only reluctantly work together, and sometimes not at all.  Political distrust between mayors from different parties or between rich and poor city districts sometimes translates into a total lack of communication and coordination.”

Quickie analysis:  An excellent case-study of a terrorism hotspot.  An understanding of dynamics like those in play in Molenbeek is key to sensible counterterrorism policies.

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