To understand France's jihadis, look at where they came from

by DANIEL HANNAN November 27, 2015

Eurocrats rarely see Molenbeek, the Brussels commune that has become the focus of police investigations following the Paris abominations - except, occasionally, from the windows of their chauffeured limousines. A canal separates Molenbeek from the monstrous EU buildings of the Schuman quarter; but the two districts are divided by much more than a stretch of gray water.

Brussels is home to two types of immigrants. First, there are those (like me) who are in some way connected to the EU or to its ancillary industries: lobbying, journalism, PR. Then there are the large Turkish and North African populations, connected to their ancestral countries by the satellite dishes through which they watch TV from "home." The two worlds rarely meet, except when an EU official gets into a taxi, or perhaps hires a head-scarfed cleaner.

Few Bruxellois are surprised that Molenbeek is the epicenter of the Paris plot. It's not a uniquely poor district, at least not by comparison with the tower-blocked banlieus - the suburbs that ring some French cities. Molenbeek is run-down, jobless and listless rather than seething. Its local council has a reputation for uselessness. The commune has been under the control of the Left for as long as anyone can remember, and councilmen rely lazily on Muslim votes. But it would be idiotic to argue that growing up in a down-at-heel, dull, vaguely corrupt borough somehow puts young men on the path to mass murder.

Alienation is a common enough phenomenon among second-generation immigrants, pulled between their countries of birth and the sunlit lands of their grandparents' stories. Sometimes, the sense of dislocation becomes a clinical condition: Schizophrenia is eight times more common among second-generation Dutch immigrants than in the general population.

Still, a sense of mild dislocation doesn't normally push people into political violence. Something else is happening.

I think it has to do with the way that patriotism has been derided and traduced by Europe's intellectual elites. If you want newcomers to assimilate into your society, you have to give them something into which to assimilate. You have to project a sense of pride, of common purpose, of self-belief.

This is perhaps especially difficult in Belgium. There is no Belgian language, no Belgian culture, precious little Belgian history. The country is divided between French and Dutch-speakers and subsists, as the saying goes, only in its monarchy and its football team.

The last Belgian election was won by a party that favors Flemish self-rule, and French and Dutch-speaking populations are, in consequence, identifying less with the national institutions, more with their own communities. But where does this leave, say, a Moroccan-origin boy from Molenbeek? What is there for him to be join?

Think of the experience that boy will have had in his adolescence. His every interaction with the Belgian state will have taught him to despise it. If he got any history at all in school, it will have been presented to him as a hateful chronicle of racism and exploitation. When he hears politicians on TV, they are unthinkingly blaming every ill in the world on Western meddling. It's hardly an inducement to integrate, is it?

Americans are very good at assimilating newcomers. They go in for loud displays of national pride - flags in the yard and bunting on Independence Day and stirring songs - that strike some Euro-snobs as vulgar, but that make it easy for settlers to want to belong.

In the EU, by contrast, the ruling doctrine is that patriotism is a dangerous force, and that the nation-state is on its last legs. Eurocrats dream of making the 12-star flag a common post-national symbol, just as they have already replaced national passports with an EU version. "Europe - Your Country," says the sign at the Commission building.

In every age and nation, some young men are attracted by the sheer certainty of political violence. Once, they joined the Red Brigades or the Baader-Meinhof Gang. Now, for similar reasons, they are drawn to the latest terrorist group that glamorizes destruction.

Part of our response must be security-based. We need to be prepared to deploy proportionate force, whether at home or overseas.

Ultimately, though, the best way to defeat a bad idea is with a better idea. There is surely no more squalid idea than that propagated by the death-cult calling itself Islamic State. And there is no finer idea than the freedom that defines Western societies. Let's not be shy about saying so.

Daniel Hannan is a British writer and journalist, and has been Conservative MEP for South East England since 1999. He speaks French and Spanish and loves Europe, but believes that the EU is making its constituent nations poorer, less democratic and less free. He is the winner of the Bastiat Award for online journalism.


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