Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon said that a “significant” part of the Muslim population in his country “danced” in celebration, following the deadly terrorist bomb attacks last month at Brussels’ international airport and metro system. Thirty-two people died in the attacks, including four Americans.
Speaking to the Flemish-language De Standaard newspaper yesterday, Jambon said “A significant section of the Muslim community danced when attacks took place.” Jambon, who is in charge of overall security in Belgium, also accused the Muslims living in Brussels’ largely immigrant Molenbeek neighborhood of attacking police during operations in March to arrest a suspect in the related terrorist attacks in Paris of November 2015.
“They threw stones and bottles at police and press during the arrest of Salah Abdeslam,” said Jambon. “This is the real problem. Terrorists we can pick up, remove from society. But they are just a boil. Underneath is a cancer that is much more difficult to treat. We can do it, but it won’t be overnight.”
Human rights groups and leftwing politicians accused Jambon of seeking to stigmatize Muslims and sowing divisiveness. Jambon’s New Flemish Alliance party has been a key part of Belgium’s ruling center-right coalition since 2014.
Jambon, a Flemish nationalist, was one of the government ministers who offered his resignation in the wake of the attacks. He said that the danger of the radicalization of the young members of Muslim families of three or four generations of residence in Europe is “too deeply rooted” in some areas because Belgium to extirpated because previous governments “have for many years ignored the warning signs.”
A diverse crowd of people walked through central Brussels today in what was billed as “a march against terror and hate”, almost one month after the attacks by the suicide bombers. Police estimated the crowd at 7,000, while organizers set the number at 15,000. Among those marching were some of the 300 persons wounded in the attack, as well as family members.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has been defensive about his government’s performance. “I don’t accept the idea that we are a ‘failed state,’” he told CNN this month. “There is a failure just like 9/11 was a failure for the US; just like London was a failure for the UK and Madrid was a failure for Spain.”
The attacks brought about a subsequent flurry of finger-pointing and debate over who was responsible for the security lapses. The Brussels airport was closed because the main terminal was severely damaged, while security controls also hampered a return to normality after the attack as the government sought to respond. Army units were seen on the streets, prompting some to accuse the government of over-reaction. Then a wildcat strike by air traffic controllers at the airport complicated matters further by grounding flights while transportation authorities were seeking to get back to normal.
Transportation Minister Jacqueline Galant was forced to resign on April 15 amid claims that she had lied about reports criticizing security lapses at the airport. Opposition parties capitalized on documents that appeared to show that she had misled parliament. A close ally of Prime Minister Michel, her departure was yet another political blow to the fragile four-party government that he administers.
Gridlock and divisions were evident, too, in March when nationalist protesters invaded a memorial to the victims. Approximately 400 men wearing black chanted anti-immigrant slogans took part in the rally on Easter Sunday. Some of them trashed the candles and flowers and others struck Nazi salutes.
Le Soir, Belgium’s principal French-language newspaper, called for change. “There is something wrong in our kingdom. Since the deadly attacks we display every day our intrinsic shortcomings, in the rejection of responsibilities, in the ‘it’s not me, it’s the other one’.”
Some question whether the country’s complex political system makes policing the terrorist threat difficult. In addition to its federal government, Belgium has a web of various parliaments, three regional governments, as well as representatives for each of the country’s three linguistic groups: French, Dutch and German. Five successive reforms of the country’s constitution between 1970 and 2001 have failed to resolve how to govern. Indeed, Belgium went for 541 days in 2010 into 2011 without a government, thus breaking the world record set by Iraq. The current government was formed two years ago after a relatively short span of five months’ negotiations.