The vicious attack on the Brussels airport and metro underscores the futility of focusing on the Syrian “Caliphate” as the epicenter of terrorism: as I’ve been saying in this space since 2001, the snake has no head. Both al-Qaeda and now ISIS are protean entities with a vast geographical spread, and what the Brussels attack – and, before it, the Paris attack – show is that they have successfully colonized Europe.
If the “Islamic State” proclaimed by ISIS was defeated and eliminated tomorrow, the terrorist and criminal networks that pulled off the Brussels attacks would still exist.
The population of Brussels is nearly 25 percent immigrants from Muslim countries, primarily Morocco and Algeria. And as it turns out the two brothers who were the core of the ISIS cell were habitués of the now notorious Molenbeek neighborhood, which consists primarily of the descendants of immigrants who settled there decades ago. Poor, and beset by petty crime, it is a pool in which terrorist recruiters fish with much success. The Syrian civil war has become a cause that attracts young toughs with no prospects, who are looking for some sense of meaning – and a way to express their alienation from the larger society in which they live. Molenbeek was also the base for those who planned and carried out the Paris attacks – it is, in effect, a general headquarters for ISIS to carry out its European operations. Salah Abdeslam, the chief planner of the Paris attacks, fled there and found sanctuary for four months before being caught.
In short, the problem of terrorism in Europe is an internal phenomenon, not something that comes from the outside. The Europeans imported it – and, as Germany’s welcoming of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war-torn Middle East dramatizes, they are continuing to import it. Now they are living with the consequences.
In response, various right-wing populist parties have emerged in Europe that focus on stopping immigration from Muslim countries: in France, Britain, and Germany the rise of the anti-immigration movement has liberal elites in a panic. And yet these movements are for the most part exercises in futility, because that horse is already out of the barn. France, for example, is not going to deport the millions of North African Muslims who have lived in the country for a generation and more: they are French citizens. The same goes for Britain, and all the former empires of Europe whose colonial adventures brought in large numbers of the colonized. Now they are learning – too late – that colonialism is a two-way street.
What Brussels also showed is that the universal surveillance championed by the War Party as a necessary corollary of the “war on terrorism” would not have stopped the attacks: the ISIS cell consisted of two brothers, which not only ensured against infiltration but also made it next to impossible for any but the most intrusive surveillance to have had any effect. Indeed, the key to stopping the attacks was intelligence – which the Belgian authorities ignored. It turns out that Brahim el-Bakraoui had been deported from Turkey and the Belgians had been warned he was dangerous. They ignored the warning.
The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz claims that the Belgian authorities had “advance and precise intelligence warnings” about the attack on the airport and the subway but failed to take sufficient action to prevent them. This highlights another lesson of the Brussels attacks: the European authorities are utterly incompetent and unprepared for the challenge they face.
Beyond that, however, is a larger problem: the ISIS phenomenon is largely a creation of the Western powers and its allies in the Gulf. The Saudis, the Qataris, and the Kuwaitis have long been funding Wahabist extremism, and they are the real progenitors of the ideology that inspired the creation of al-Qaeda and ISIS. Furthermore, regime change in Syria has long been on the American-European agenda, with funding for ‘moderate” Islamist head-choppers flowing from the US Treasury directly into the pockets of extremist gangs in the region. The same enabling action took place in Libya, where – led by Hillary Clinton – the Obama administration sided with “pro-democracy” rebels who turned out to be terrorists.
With the Syrian civil war as their training ground, the ISIS recruits of Molenbeek and other similar ghettos underwent the transformation from petty criminals to battle-hardened jihadists. And now they are swarming all over Europe, with reportedly thousands of them traveling back to Belgium, France, Britain, and elsewhere to wreak havoc in the name of their newfound cause.
For us here in America, the lessons of the European tragedy are there to be learned. There is only one solution to the problem of terrorism and it doesn’t involve going abroad in search of monsters to destroy. The point is to make sure those monsters never reach our shores.
Furthermore, we must withdraw from the Middle East – a possibility that doesn’t bear the economic consequences it once did, given the creation of new technologies that make domestic oil production far easier.
We are spending billions defending and sustaining the Saudi monarchy and the Gulf states – some of the most repressive regimes in the world. And for what? The interventionists declare that America’s role as a “global leader” represents the defense of our values. But does a regime that beheads “infidels” represent American values? Indeed, there is no operative difference between the internal rule of the ISIS “caliphate” and the Saudi Kingdom. Yet we are obsessed with destroying the former and cuddling up to the latter.
It’s too late for the Europeans, who are now forced to sleep in the bed they so assiduously made. It isn’t too late for America: we can learn the lesson of Brussels if only we have the will to do so.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.