By Saneep Bamzai*
The unprecedented Brussels lockdown is affecting people and costing the government exchequer money. In one of the great manhunts, the quarry is one of the men behind the coordinated Paris attacks – Salah Abdeslam – who is still at large. The shutdown reminiscent of New York after 9/11 and Boston after the Marathon bombings is different because it has been done to pre-empt attacks. The moot point here being that it is precautionary in nature but it has disrupted daily life. The serious and imminent threat to Brussels which is the capital for the European Union has unleashed a fresh wave of Islamophobia. Brussels had 3.3 million visitors in 2013 as tourism rebounded after a flat 2012, largely because of improving consumer and business confidence and a wider economic recovery from the financial crisis. The industry grew again in 2014, according to Brussels’ tourism office.
“We are in a recovery situation,” said ING economist Philippe Ledent. “If it’s just an emotion, it’s not a real problem. But if it is long-lasting, then there could be a deeper impact on consumer confidence and then on private consumption.” Reuters reported that Brussels has a large expatriate community tied to the European Union and NATO, amounting to about 120,000 people, or a tenth of the entire city population. Tourism and business are obviously hit in Belgium with the ongoing lock down. Anti terror forces are keen to flush out suspects, but there are at least 100,000 migrants in the Brussels borough Molenbeek which has at last count 22 mosques and the highest number of per capita Islamic fighters. In 1992 Phillipe Moureaux – a prominent Brussels socialist – became the Mayor of Molenbeek. He remained Mayor for 20 years and in the two decades in office pursued an ideology and policy of aggressive immigration. Any questioning of the demographic change in Molenbeek was shut down as “racist”, and Moureaux pursued his policies of multiculturalism and “diversity” with gusto. What it did was turn Molenbeek into Jihadi Central with 30 per cent of the population of foreign nationality and another 40 per cent of foreign origins (people who now have Belgian passports). Moreover, concerns about the influence of Saudi-sponsored Wahhabism being practiced in the Brussels Grand Mosque, which undoubtedly filters down to Molenbeek’s many mosques has thrown into stark relief the high level of radicalism in the area.
The Global Terrorism Index 2015 compiled by Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) threw up some startling findings. Some of them are in line with common perception but what it does is tell you almost with forensic accuracy that the economic cost of terrorism increased by 61 per cent in 2014. The economic cost of terrorism reached its highest ever level in 2014 at $52.9 billion. This is a 61 per cent increase from the previous year and a ten-fold increase since 2000. The costs of containing terrorism are significant and greater than the direct costs of terrorism. IEP estimates the global national security expenditure to be approximately $117 billion.
These national security agencies are tasked with preventing terrorist activity as well as supporting other elements of national security. So, it is a double whammy for not only is there an an economic cost of terrorism, but combating it is even more expensive. The majority of deaths from terrorism do not occur in the West. Excluding the September 11 attack, only 0.5 per cent of deaths from terrorism have occurred in the West since 2000. Including September 11, the percentage reaches 2.6. Lone wolf attackers are the main perpetrators of terrorist activity in the West. Seventy per cent of all deaths from terrorism in the West since 2006 were by lone wolf terrorists with the rest being unknown or group attacks by more than three attackers. Islamic fundamentalism was not the main cause of terrorism in the West over the last nine years. Eighty per cent of deaths by lone wolf terrorists in the West were driven by right wing extremism, nationalism, anti government sentiment, political extremism and other forms of supremacy. Now this is where the bend in the river comes in.
Will Paris become the defining moment in the new war between Islamic fighters and terrorists and the western world of thinking and living. Is Europe to become the new theatre of the new War? This is what one thought when 9/11 happened, but the World Trade Centre bombings were the result of sleeper cells trained with cold precision and hostility by Al Qaeeda indoctrination. The Islamic State is whole different ball game. Unfortunately in the case of the Caliphate what your perceive is the reality simply because perception coalesces to become reality. The Islamic fighters also indoctrinated are warriors of a different kind, they are merciless and brutal killing machines who actually believe in the hegemony of the Islamic State. Yes, this is the Crusade being fought all over again. Only this time the war is being taken to Christianity by the misplaced and misled holy jihadists.
The US managed to clampdown on terror, just as Britain too managed to do the same. India again is having a good run after its last trust with the terror network in the 26/11 episode. Europe’s problems are different, relatively free borders, open migration policies, proximity to the Levant and north Africa, the easy access that emerging hot spots like Molenbeek, a Brussels suburb provide as the last transit point for fighters to go to Syria . Belgium’s security apparatus is not on par with say a France or Britain. It is not easy to cut off the monster breeding in their own backyard for years now.
Interestingly, Boko Haram has overtaken IS, according to the Global Terrorism Index to become the most deadly terrorist group in the world. Deaths attributed to Boko Haram increased by 317 per cent in 2014 to 6,644. IS was responsible for 6,073 terrorist deaths. Equally, terrorist activity is highly concentrated – five countries accounting for 78 per cent of the deaths in 2014. Fifty seven per Fifty seven per cent of all attacks and 78 per cent of all deaths occurred in only five countries – Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. The emergence of IS as the deadliest rogue fighting force which seems to be sucking in young jihadis through the use of the internet is now the single biggest danger to the global security establishment. The brutal strife may be in Syria, but its reverberations will be felt across the western world with great regularity, imperilling it in a new dangerous cycle.
Why has France become the target of IS? The Independent reported a couple of days ago:
ISIS (also known as the Islamic State and ISIL) called Paris “the capital of prostitution and vice” in a statement claiming responsibility for the attack. The terrorist group also stated that France and “all nations following in its path” are “at the top of the target list for the Islamic State.” Under President Francois Hollande, France launched its first airstrikes against Isis targets in Syria in September. The country is also a closer and more opportunistic target for extremist groups. Witnesses at the Bataclan said the gunmen shouted in French, “This is because of all the harm done by Hollande to Muslims all over the world,” according to The New York Times. Another witness confirmed this to CNN, telling the news network the attacker who shouted that statement sounded like a native French speaker.
Time magazine wrote, “Jihad seems to hit France harder than other countries, with more than 1,000 young people leaving to fight on the side of IS or other jihadis in Iraq and Syria. The murderous attack by two men of Algerian descent on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo was like a neon sign being held up in France’s face. The recent Mali hotel attack by a known Al Qaeeda affiliate may also be connected to France. Mali has been torn apart by unrest since the north fell under the control of jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012. The Islamists were largely ousted by a French-led military operation launched the following year, but large swathes of Mali remain lawless. France has more than 1,000 troops in its former colony, a key battleground of the Barkhane counter-terror mission spanning five countries in Africa’s restive Sahel region.
Paris attacks and the Brussels lockdown are a watershed moment in the continuing war on terror, the sands are shifting rapidly, the theatres are different now, equally the hunters and their prey too will be radically different from what has seen in the past. If the Islamic State decides to ramp up which it surely will, then the threat perception to the European mainland will go up to level four, the highest threat levels in Europe. Another attack on the mainland or the UK will see fierce reprisals from the European countries which in any case are trying their best to ally with the Soviet Union in a dramatic shift in ‘war time’ loyalties.
Vladimir Putin is still supporting Syria’s Assad and the downing of the SU 24 by Turkey may well be a tipping point in the war. Reprisal will see retaliation in what can only be described as a vicious cycle of violence. All it will do is leave tell tale marks on the business and economic landscape. For starters Belgium is hurting because tourism and diamond trade are impacted, ditto for France where heightened security lurks everywhere. The scars will take much longer to heal.
*The writer is a Visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi