Scholars Argue French Political Culture Responsible For Brussels, Paris Terror Attacks

William McCants and Christopher Meserole of the Brookings Institution recently argued in a Foreign Affairs that the reason behind the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels might have their roots, not in radical Islam, but French political culture.

The paid acknowledge that the terrorist attacks reflect the reality that jihadists currently pose a greater threat within France and Belgium than in other countries on the continent and that they are getting larger and more deadly. However, they assert that the best predictor of future violence “was whether a country was Francophone; that is, whether it currently lists (or previously listed) French as a national language,” not any other factors.

It is not the language, but the French political culture that the language represents.

“France and Belgium, for example, are the only two countries in Europe to ban the full veil in their public schools. They’re also the only two countries in Western Europe not to gain the highest rating for democracy in the well-known Polity score data, which does not include explanations for the markdowns,” they contend.

The argument might hold merit among political elites in global capitals, but their colleague says it misses the point by confusing correlation with causation.

Fellow Brookings scholar Phillippe Le Corre notes that the largest number of Belgian foreign fighters to go to Syria came from the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, not the French-speaking part.

“But beyond that, it’s essential to recognize that in Belgium, governance issues have led to unfortunate intelligence failures. The country is run by no fewer than five governments, and there has been poor coordination (on the rise of jihad, among other issues) between the Belgian federal government and regional governments,” he counters.

In fact, as news reports following the recent attack in Brussels, the complete intelligence breakdown on a national and local level within Belgium was a critical component.

“We should be careful about pointing to language or culture to explain Sunni radicalism around the world. Instead, we should focus on challenges of integration and cooperation between and among countries—these are by far the top challenges for many governments struggling with the threat of jihadi terrorists,” Le Corre concludes.

But some contest that Belgium, despite the fact it leads in the number of citizens travelling to Syria for terror training, is a hotbed of terrorist activity or the breeding group for jihadists.

Thomas Renard makes the case in Politico EU that the Belgians have been combatting terrorism in various forms since the 1970s and through the last decade.

He notes that Belgian police forces concentrated on threats from Al Qaeda and, more specifically, the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) during the 1990s, but are now facing a more globalized terror threat that has crept into cities throughout Europe.

As early as 2012 and 2013, the chief of intelligence shared his concerns as the number of radicalized young men and women leaving to join the jihad every month started to increase.

“A year later, these concerns turned into reality. Belgium became the first victim of an attack perpetrated by a “returnee” when French national Mehdi Nemmouche killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. So Belgium is not new to this. The country has long been aware of the threat of terrorist attacks, including those related to ISIL,” says Renard, a senior research fellow at the Egmont Institute and an adjunct professor at Vesalius College in Brussels.

“[T]he Brussels plot is not just an attack against Belgium. It is an attack against Europe and, more broadly, against our democratic values and societies. And as such it is also proof of our collective failures of prevention and intelligence — not only Belgium’s,” he concludes.

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